Omega-3 International Awareness Day: understanding fish oils

Omega-3 International Awareness Day on March 3rd this year is striving to highlight the potential health benefits that can be obtained from increasing intake of fish or fish oil supplements. Omega-3s are a natural nutrient derived from food and are not drugs. It is therefore not surprising that the complex and diverse impact that these fats have on health and disease progression is gaining the attention of GPs, practitioners and researchers at a phenomenal rate.

Given the increasing interest in the use of omega-3 supplements in areas such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia, cardiovascular health and inflammatory conditions, it is crucial to understand how and why which fatty acid is most efficacious; this, therefore, is the focus of many ongoing clinical trials. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and not docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), directly competes with the omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) for the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and is directly associated with decreased levels of inflammatory thromboxane A2 involved in cardiovascular health, and prostaglandin A2 involved in modulating inflammation. Fish oil with a higher EPA to DHA ratio would be expected to exhibit stronger anti- thrombotic and anti-inflammatory actions than an oil with a higher DHA to EPA ratio. While feeding pure EPA leads to the formation of other long-chain omega-3s, including DHA, by elongation and desaturation, supplementing with pure DHA, even at low levels, can lead to exclusive accumulation of this omega-3 fatty acid because retroconversion is a minor metabolic pathway. Furthermore, because DHA is the most unstable of the long chain omega-3s, the products of lipid peroxidation derived from DHA supplementation may actually counteract any advantage of DHA supplementation by depleting vitamin E levels, and possibly even increasing inflammation. Pure EPA oil, it appears, has the upper hand.

Of all the health benefits that can be listed, the role of omega-3 on cardiovascular function is probably the best known, as well as the most documented. Concerning its role in the prevention of coronary artery disease, as well as its anti-inflammatory effect, EPA exhibits an anti-arrhythmic effect, inhibits platelet aggregation, exhibits vasodilatory activity, has a triglyceride-lowering effect and induces plaque stabilisation. The Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS) was the first prospective randomised clinical trial to demonstrate the preventative of coronary events by pure EPA.1,2 Based on these findings, The American Heart Association has issued new recommendations stating that women with hypercholesterolaemia or hypertriglyceridaemia may benefit from taking 1.8 g of pure EPA per day.

Supplementation with fish oil is now recognised as both a safe and convenient alternative to direct fish consumption as a means of increasing omega-3 levels. However, the supplement market has grown considerably in the last decade, and obtaining 1.8 g of pure-EPA is no mean feat. With a wide variety of products, the average content appears to be 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA per 1000 mg fish oil. It may take as many as 20 capsules of common oil to obtain 1.8 g EPA. This would also include 1.2 g surplus DHA and, with the potential to increase inflammation, this is far from desirable. However, with increasing understanding of the important role EPA plays at both the cellular and molecular level and the need for concentrated highly purified DHA-free oils, Igennus appears at the forefront of the omega supplement market. Having developed products specifically containing only pure EPA tailored to meet the high doses now known to be of benefit in regulating cardiovascular, inflammatory and immune pathways, Igennus can proudly proclaim that we offer the best omega-3 choices, not only for maintenance of general health, but also as a valuable add-on treatment for a variety of conditions in which deficiencies of omega-3 are known to play a role. Two Vegepa capsules daily provide 560 mg EPA, thereby satisfying the current government recommendation for consumption of omega-3; increasing intake to between 4 and 8 capsules daily provides the adjunctive dose needed to restore omega-3 levels in conditions where deficiency is known to play a major role. Combining EPA with the anti-inflammatory omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) derived from cold pressed organic evening primrose oil, not only ensures that high doses of EPA can be taken long term, but also provides a unique source of triterpenes, known for their anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and powerful anti-oxidant properties. Thus, the unique patented formulation of Vegepa offers benefits superior to any other available omega-3 supplement – as frequently reported by our customers.

1. Yokoyama M, Origasa H; JELIS Investigators. (2003) Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on cardiovascular events in Japanese patients with hypercholesterolemia: rationale, design, and baseline characteristics of the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS). Am Heart J. 146:613-20.

2. Yamanouchi D, Komori K. (2010) Eicosapentaenoic acid as the gold standard for patients with peripheral artery disease? – subanalysis of the JELIS trial. Circ J. 74:1298-9.

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