Health Benefits of EPA/DHA Omega-3 Fatty Acids Throughout the Human Life Cycle
By Dr Bruce Holub, PhD
September 17, 2019 / 1:00 - 2:00 pm EST
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are present as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). They are found in all tissues and cells in the human body with the cell membranes being particularly enriched . The levels in the human body are estimated by measuring the circulating levels in the blood. DHA is regarded as a physiologically-essential nutrient in the brain and retina of the eye where it supports optimal cognitive function (memory, learning ability, etc) and visual acuity, respectively. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy has been found to reduce the prevalence of premature infant births. DHA supplementation in breastfeeding mothers has been successful in providing DHA intakes for the term infant which meet recommended infant intakes for optimal development and health. Both EPA and DHA play important roles in supporting optimal health throughout the human life cycle including the prevention and management of many chronic and life-threatening conditions (cardiovascular disease (CVD), certain cancers, inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and dry eye syndrome).
The risk factors for CVD which are favourably modified by ingesting EPA/DHA include anti-thrombotic effects and the lowering of blood triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and the resting heart rate. The physiological and biochemical mechanisms by which these effects are mediated are well known. Many long-term clinical trials using supplemental EPA/DHA or EPA alone (including the very recent REDUCE-IT study) have reported a marked reduction in major cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, hospitalization due to unstable angina, and the need for coronary surgery).
The anti-inflammatory effects of EPA/DHA as found in various conditions are mediated via the reduction of pro-inflammatory products derived from the omega-6 fatty acid (arachidonic acid) as well as the generation of inflammatory-resolving bioactive products derived from EPA and DHA. Higher intakes of EPA/DHA have been associated with the retardation of age-related mental deterioration, a lower prevalence of Alzheimer's disease in both men and women, and benefits in mental disorders (including depression) in all age groups. Due to the very low consumption of fish/seafood as sources of EPA/DHA in North America, nutritional supplementation with EPA/DHA has become an important option for meeting recommended guidelines for EPA/DHA intakes and the intakes used in clinical trials which report beneficial outcomes in disease prevention and management.
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