Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA omega 3 fatty acid, found in fish oil, krill oil, along with DHA
January 3 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA or sometimes misspelled as eicosapentanoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid that acts as a precursor for prostaglandin-3 (which inhibits platelet aggregation), thromboxane-3 and leukotriene-5 groups. EPA and docosahexaenoic acid - dha - are precursors to potent bioactive mediators that possess both anti-inflammatory and protective properties. These mediators are coined resolvins, docosatrienes, and protectins as general classes. If you would like to buy eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, see fish oils.

Where is this fatty acid found?
Eicosapentaenoic acid is found in fish oils of cod liver, herring, mackerel, salmon, menhaden, krill oil, and sardine. It is also found in human breast milk.

International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 2013. The present study analyzes the intake of omega 3 (n-3 PUFAs) and omega 6 (n-6 PUFAs) and dietary sources in a representative sample of Spanish adults. For this purpose adults (18 - 60 years), from 15 Spanish provinces were studied. The intake of energy and nutrients [specifically, the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs,) α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); and the n-6 PUFA, linoleic acid (LA)] was determined using a 24-hour recall questionnaire for two days. The Multiple Source Method (MSM) was used to estimate participants usual fatty acid intake. The total n-3 PUFAs intake was 1.8 g/day (ALA: 1.3, EPA: 0.16, and DHA: 0.33 g/day) and n-6 PUFA intake was 11 g/day. A high proportion of participants did not meet their nutrient intake goals for total n-3 PUFAs (84 %), ALA (45 %), and EPA plus DHA (62 %). The main food sources for ALA were oil, dairy products, and meat; for EPA fish; for DHA, fish, eggs, and meat; and for LA, oils, meat, and cereals. Therefore, an increase in the intake of foods rich in n-3 PUFAs or the use of supplements with n-3 PUFAs might help to improve the n-3 PUFA intake.

How it is made
The main biological role of alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) appears to be as a precursor for the synthesis of longer chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Increasing alphaLNA intake for a period of weeks to months results in an increase in the proportion of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) in plasma lipids, in erythrocytes, leukocytes, platelets and in breast milk but there is no increase in docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3), which may even decline in some pools at high alphaLNA intakes.

Potential benefit
The correction of a subtle nutritional deficiency that may reduce the risk of a future chronic disease is indeed a challenge. However, some specific examples in the past, such as the addition of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis, should provide some encouragement that some conditions can be prevented with the appropriate addition of a deficient compound. One of the most intriguing current and future impacts on public health may come from a greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 fatty acids continue to accumulate research that suggests that may prevent a variety of diverse chronic diseases and potentially some acute clinical scenarios.

Oman Medical Journal. 2014. Effect of EPA and vitamin C on superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, total antioxidant capacity and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetic patients. Eicosapentaenoic acid in the pure form reduces oxidative stress in type 2 diabetic patients; albeit, it does not alleviate hyperglycemia.

Brain health, Alzheimer's
Omega-3 fatty acids -- nutrients long thought to be helpful for neurological health -- can cross the usually impenetrable blood-brain barrier and make their way into the brain. This natural barrier shields the brain from harmful chemicals found elsewhere in the body. Patients who take fish oil supplements have higher levels of two major forms of omega-3 fatty acids in their cerebrospinal fluid -- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Prog Lipid Res. 2016. The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in the treatment of major depression and Alzheimer's disease: Acting separately or synergistically? Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3-PUFAs), mainly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), improve or prevent some psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases in both experimental and clinical studies. As important membrane components, these PUFAs benefit brain health by modulating neuroimmune and apoptotic pathways, changing membrane function and/or competing with n-6 PUFAs, the precursors of inflammatory mediators.

Neuroinflammation plays an important role in the advancement of this disorder, and n3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are involved in both the reduction in and resolution of inflammation. These effects may be mediated by the anti-inflammatory and proresolving effects of bioactive lipid mediators (oxylipins) derived from n3 PUFAs [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] in fish oil. Although interventions have generally used fish oil containing both EPA and DHA, several studies that used either EPA or DHA alone or specific oxylipins derived from these fatty acids indicate that they have distinct effects. Both DHA and EPA can reduce neuroinflammation and cognitive decline, but EPA positively influences mood disorders, whereas DHA maintains normal brain structure.

Eicosapentaenoic acid and depression
Depressive symptoms are commonly observed in elderly people, and nutritional factors such as eicosapentaenoic acid intake have been proposed as potential protective determinants of depressive disorders. Higher plasma eicosapentaenoic acid has been found to be associated with a lower severity of depression in elderly subjects, especially those taking antidepressants. Am J Clin Nutr 2008.

Blood thinning
J Nutr Biochem. 2012. Acute supplementation with eicosapentaenoic acid reduces platelet microparticle activity in healthy subjects. School of Biomedical Sciences & Pharmacy, University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Callaghan, Australia. Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with reduced incidence in thrombotic events. In addition, administration of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) has been shown to rectify elevated platelet microparticle (MP) number and procoagulant activity in post myocardial infarction patients. However, it is unknown whether supplementation can alter these parameters in healthy individuals and if such effects are immediate or require long-term supplementation.  A placebo-controlled trial was conducted in healthy males and females. MP activity, MP levels and platelet aggregation were measured at 0 and 24 h postsupplementation with either a placebo or EPA- or DHA-rich oil. Both EPA and DHA effectively reduced platelet aggregation at 24 h postsupplementation relative to placebo, but only EPA reduced MP activity.

Lung disease, COPD
Am J Clin Nutr. 2015. Fish intake and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2 large US cohorts. Higher fish intake is associated with a lower risk for COPD.

Testing for blood levels
Press release 2010: VitalRemedyMD, a physician-established company, began marketing a blood testing kit to determine if you're getting enough Omega-3 in your diet or through fish oil supplements. The HS-Omega-3 Index is performed using a drop of blood from a simple fingerstick. It measures the two heart-healthy fats -- Docosahexaenoic DHA and Eicosapentaenoic EPA acids. William Harris, PhD, co-developer of the HS- Omega-3 Index comments, "Based on what we currently know there is no nutrient more important for decreasing risk of cardiovascular death--and more lacking--than omega-3."VitalRemedyMD, founded by Seth J. Baum, MD, FACC, FACPM, FAHA, is also the developer of VitalOils1000 omega-3 fish oil that contains 1,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA in single soft gel.
   Comments: I don't see the need to test for omega-3 levels. Just improve your diet and take 2 to 4 fish oil capsules a day. There is too much testing done in this country without proof that such testing extends longevity.

Study in Eskimos
Associations of very high intakes of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids with biomarkers of chronic disease risk among Yup'ik Eskimos
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010. From the Division of Public Health Sciences Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Seattle WA, the Center for Alaska Native Health Research Institute of Arctic Biology University of Alaska-Fairbanks Fairbanks AK.
Few studies have examined the associations of eicosapentaenoic acid EPA and docosahexaenoic acid DHA with biomarkers of chronic disease risk in populations with high intakes.We examined the associations of red blood cell (RBC) EPA and DHA, as percentages of total fatty acids, with biomarkers of chronic disease risk across a wide range of EPA and DHA intakes. In a cross-sectional study of 357 Yup'ik Eskimos, generalized additive models were used to plot covariate-adjusted associations of EPA and DHA with chronic disease biomarkers. Linear regression models were used to test for the statistical significance of these associations. Means (5th95th percentiles) for RBC EPA and DHA were 2.8% and 6.8%, respectively. Associations of EPA and DHA were inverse and linear for triglycerides and positive and linear for HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-I. Positive linear associations of DHA with LDL and total cholesterol were observed; for EPA, these associations were nonlinear and restricted to concentrations {approx}<5% of total fatty acids. Associations of EPA and DHA with C-reactive protein were inverse and nonlinear: for EPA, the association appeared stronger at concentrations {approx}>3% of total fatty acids; for DHA, it was observed only at concentrations {approx}>7% of total fatty acids. Increasing EPA and DHA intakes to amounts well above those consumed by the general US population may have strong beneficial effects on chronic disease risk.

Also occasionally spelled eicosapentanoic acid or eicosapentenoic acid

Is there also a vegetarian eicosapentaenoic acid EPA supplement available?
   At this time we are not aware of an EPA eicosapentaenoic acid vegetarian supplement by itself.

Products for sale online
Nordic Naturals, EPA, Lemon, 1000 mg, 60 Soft Gels