Effects of EPA and DHA
In an extensive research program within the framework of the EU Health Claims Regulations, the European Food Safety Authority evaluated the health effects of nutritional supplements and micronutrients based on current state of science.
For many substances, such as probiotic cultures, health claims were not granted due to lack of substances’ characterization or lack of scientifically sound evidence for their effects.
In their evaluation of EPA and DHA, the EFSA came to clear conclusions: based on current research results, EPA and DHA proved to have a very positive effect on the cardiovascular system. And for the first time, the positive effect of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids on the development of brain function and visual acuity was independently confirmed.1
1EFSA: Scientific opinions 1734/2010, 1796/2010. EU-VO 440/2011
Countless numbers of clinical studies show the significance of EPA and DHA for a healthy heart. In four large prospective intervention trials with a total of around 40,000 participants, significant effect on the primary and secondary prevention of heart diseases and stroke were proven.
An extensive meta-analysis based on a total of 20 individual studies with over 300,000 participants showed that consuming an adequate amount of fish or taking EPA and DHA supplements regularly results in a 36 percent reduction of heart risk factors.1
EPA and DHA support healthy heart function in many ways. They have a very positive influence on the lipid composition and metabolism of cells in the blood vessels, the blood and the heart.
1GISSL, JELIS, DART, GISSI-HF
DHA during Pregnancy
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a very important role in the development of the brain function and vision during the nurturing period when the baby is inside the womb and also during breastfeeding.
A daily intake of at least 200 mg of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding are recommended by the German Association for Nutrition and the European Association of Perinatal Medicine.
More recent studies show that children’s brains develop better when adequate DHA is present.
In a recent report, the World Health Organization (WHO) comes to the conclusion that when mothers consume a sufficient amount of DHA, the IQ of their child can improve by up to 5.8 points.1
1FAO/WHO: Report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption (2011)
EPA and DHA for a Healthy Brain
Up to 40 percent of the lipids in our brain consist of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are source material for the biosynthesis of eicosanoids and docosanoids, hormonal substances which perform neurotransmitter functions and work to modulate the immune system.
In a recent double-blind placebo-controlled study with 485 healthy participants, a daily intake of 900 mg of DHA produced a significant improvement in test of visual memory and word recognition.1
A further use addresses attention deficit and hyperactivity problems in children. Individual studies show the beneficial effects on specific kinds of ADHD.2
The EFSA confirms that DHA has a beneficial effect on healthy brain function at all age levels. There is a definite cause and effect relationship between DHA consumption and brain function.3
1Yurko-et al: Beneficial effects of DHA on cognition in age-related cognitive decline (2010)
2Sinn et al: Cognitive effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with adhd symptoms (2008)
3European Food Safety Authority EFSA, scientific opinions 1734/2010
DHA for Visual Acuity
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are a main component of the retina. The fat content of the retina consists almost exclusively of DHA. The DHA stored in the retina affects its strength, motility and permeability. In addition, fatty acids also have a beneficial effect on the lipid state of the photoreceptor membranes.
Our eyes are very sensitive. With advancing age, many people develop impairments to their vision which can’t be corrected with glasses.
A variety of clinical studies have shown that sufficient nutritional intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the probability of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)1. A large-scale study near completion (AREDS2) by the National Eye Institutes of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services promises to clearly confirm that EPA and DHA are effective in preventing AMD.2
1Olson et al: Nutritional supplementation and age-related macular degeneration (2011)
2National Eye Institute: Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, http://www.areds2.org/
EPA and DHA are directly or indirectly involved in many metabolic processes of the body. A deficiency can therefore affect a variety of bodily systems and functions. There is emerging scientific evidence for a number of beneficial health effects.
Under discussion are the beneficial effects of EPA and DHA on the prevention of atopic dermatitis, on insulin resistance, on strengthening the immune system and bone metabolism and for the prevention of certain types of cancer. Research results in some of these areas, however, have been to some degree contradictory.1
There is a need for further research on these new uses for EPA and DHA. Studies already in progress as well as future studies will assist in a better understanding the ways that EPA and DHA work.
1Norwegian Committee for Food Safety: Health effects of n-3 fatty acids as constituents of food supplements and fortified foods (2011)