Home Cardiovascular Omega 3 fish oil – Do EPA & DHA levels matter?

Omega 3 fish oil – Do EPA & DHA levels matter?

You see this bottle here? It is a bottle of Omega 3 fish oil. 

Chances are if you have an interest in health you are likely taking fish oil as part of your daily supplement regime, but it’s unlikely that you are taking this particular one! 

So what? 

Fish oils are all the same, aren’t they? 

No they are not! 

The variety of Omega 3 fish oils on the market today is mind blowing, ranging from the highly effective to the useless.  There are big price differences as well.  As with most things in life you get what you pay for. 

Today, I am going to give you some insights into the type of Omega 3 fish oils available.  I won’t go into the benefits of fish oil for our health.  I will do that at another time. 

Common fish oil

Common fish oil is usually referred to as 18/12.  These are oils which have not been concentrated for the Omega 3 content and have not been molecularly distilled.  They normally contain 180mgs of EPA and 120mgs of DHA for each 1,000 mgs of oil, hence the reference 18/12.  This type of oil is generally very inexpensive and you can get a lot of them for quite a low price. 

Concentrated fish oil

The next type of oil is one in which the levels of Omega 3 are concentrated.  So, instead of just having around 30% Omega 3 fatty acids it could go as high as 90%. This is what you would have if you were buying a prescription omega 3 fish oil. 

There is no difference between a high concentrate omega 3 fish oil supplement or a prescription fish oil supplement other than the levels of concentration or the prevalence of one of the main two Omega 3 fatty acids.

Most high concentrated fish oils have more EPA than DHA although you can buy Omega 3 fish oils with only DHA. 

Most fish oil companies use higher levels of the Omega 3 fatty acid known as EPA whereas we as in Xtend-Life favor higher levels of DHA. 

There is a reason for that. 

Why we prefer DHA over EPA

DHA has 22 carbon bonds attached to its back bone whereas EPA only has 20 bonds.  Our bodies can easily convert the DHA to EPA by dropping off 2 carbon bonds but it has difficulty in going the other way and converting EPA to DHA. 

DHA for brain and EPA for heart? It’s not that simple

DHA is the most valuable Omega 3 fatty acid and is the one that is most prevalent in our brains.  Some health professionals feel that EPA is the better form for the heart health and as such may recommend higher levels of EPA in the fish oils.  I personally can’t see the logic of that given that if the body needs more EPA and it has plenty of DHA it can easily convert to meet the needs. 

Fish oil and distillation

Now, getting back to concentrated oils and their differences.  Most concentrated oils are achieved by a process of molecular distillation.  This requires high heat. 

The problem is that fish oil in its natural form is a triglyceride and cannot handle high heat. 

So, oil manufacturers convert it to a form called ethyl ester which can handle the heat.  This enables the distillation process to take place. 

Most manufacturers reconvert the ethyl ester oil back to the triglyceride form after it is concentrated. This is then sold as a natural concentrated oil. 

We were never comfortable with the reconversion process so for about 10 years we used the ethyl ester form of the concentrated oil. We then blended it with pure natural non concentrated oil from New Zealand. 

New technology was developed about two years ago that enabled the molecular distillation process to take place using low heat in conjunction with an enzyme process that avoided the need to convert the oil to ethyl esters and back again. 

This meant that the oil could stay in the natural triglyceride form and as such is much more bio-available that the reconverted types.

Download our fish oil buyer’s guide

There is much more to the Omega 3 fish oil story. Please download our Buyers Guide to Omega 3 fish oil to learn more. 



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