The best ratio of EPA to DHA in your fish oil supplement depends on your reasons for supplementation. The issue is also complicated by the fact there are no officially sanctioned Recommend Daily Allowances for EPA and DHA. So your decision may also be based upon who you look to as an authority on the subject.
Essential Fatty Acids
There are two essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. Both omegas are polyunsaturated, not saturated fats commonly labeled as “bad” fats. Linoleic acid is the parent of omega-6, and alpha-linolenic acid is the parent of omega-3. EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, are fatty acids that belong to the omega-3 class. According to research reported in the June 2006 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” omega-3 supplementation is necessary because the Western diet produces an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 intake, creating many of today's public health problems.
Celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone wrote a series of best-selling books, starting in 2000, that helped popularize omega-3 supplementation. In his 2002 bestseller, “The Perricone Prescription,” he advocated daily supplementation of 3,000 mg to help people lose weight, eliminate wrinkles, elevate mood and improve heart health. The key to these benefits, the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3, are confirmed in research published in the March 2008 issue of “Nutrition.” The supplements Dr. Perricone sells include 3,000 mg fish oil containing 600 mg omega-3s, of which 240 mg are EPA and 270 mg are DHA.
Institute of Medicine
There is no officially sanctioned RDA for essential fatty acids. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the evidence regarding omega-3s and concluded there is insufficient data to define a Dietary Reference Intake for EPA and DHA. However, according to researchers in the February 2009 issue of the “Journal of Nutrition,” substantial new evidence has emerged. Subsequently, the Technical Committee on Dietary Lipids of the International Life Sciences of North America convened and recommended a DRI of combined EPA and DHA of between 250 and 500 mg per day.
The Best Ratio
The Committee didn’t suggest a ratio of EPA to DHA in its DRI recommendation. Each of the acids plays specific roles in the body. For example, researchers reporting in the November 2005 issue of “Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids” found that DHA is dramatically more effective at increasing calcium bioavailability than EPA. If your health concern is osteoporosis, you would probably want a supplement with more DHA than EPA. The best EPA to DHA ratio will depend upon your goals, making it important for you to seek a health professional’s advice.
- “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”; Healthy Intakes of N–3 and N–6 Fatty Acids: Estimations Considering Worldwide Diversity; Joseph Hibbeln; June 2006
- “Nutrition”; Dietary Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Equally Incorporate as Decosahexaenoic Acid but Differ in Inflammatory Effects; Saleta Sierra, et al.; March 2008
- Perricone MD: Omega-3
- “The Journal of Nutrition”; Towards Establishing Dietary Reference Intakes for Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids; William Harris, et al.; February 2009
- “Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids”; Is Docosahexaenoic Acid More Effective Than Eicosapentaenoic Acid for Increasing Calcium Bioavailability; Marlena Kruger and Linda Schollum; November 2005
- Omega Research