These letters stand for fatty acids found in marine fish oils. EPA stands for eicosapentenoic acid, and DHA stands for docosahexenoic acid. They are both polyunsaturated fats and come mainly from deep, cold-water marine fish, mainly salmon, herring, bluefish, and mackerel, and certain shellfish, like crab. These fish feed on marine chlorella (algae), which contains these fats.
These fish oils have been found to prevent and successfully treat heart disease by improving the type of lipoproteins in the blood-reducing the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Fish oils also prevent blood clotting by increasing the production of a hormone that blocks the clotting action.
Still more, marine fish oils have anti-inflammatory effects. They prevent the release of such substances as histamine and leukotrienes, which cause inflammation. A 1985 article in Lancet reported successful treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with fish oils.
Although all of these benefits point to the virtues of marine fish oils, there is one serious drawback with commercial omega-3 fish oils. Because they are highly unsaturated, they are unstable and susceptible to damage by oxygen, leading to free radicals in tissues and to disease. So fish oils should be supplemented with such antioxidants as vitamin E, selenium, and fat-soluble vitamin C. They should be packaged in nitrogen-flushed containers (containers free of air). Look for fish oils supplemented with vitamin E and ascorbyl palmitate (fat-soluble vitamin C).
Studies indicate that EPA and DHA are nontoxic and do not produce side effects. However, because of their anti-clotting capacity, persons with bleeding disorders such as hemophelia should not take fish oils or should consult a physician before doing so.
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