The Greenland Paradox
The positive health effects of EPA and DHA have been known since the 1960s when Bang and Dyerberg² discovered in Greenland, that mortality from cardiovascular diseases was low among the indigenous Inuit people. A surprising discovery since their diet consisted largely of saltwater fish and marine mammals with a very high fat content. This very fat-rich diet would lead researchers at that time to expect a high risk of heart diseases, no. 1 cause of death in many industrialized countries. But these diseases were rarely found among the Inuit. The groundbreaking discovery the scientists made was that “good” fats, especially the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, are beneficial for a healthy heart.
² Bang et al: Plasma lipid and lipoprotein patterns in
Greenlandic west-coast Eskimos (1971)
Vital for Life
Today scientific research can answer many of the questions concerning the function and effects of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are important components of cell membranes and ensure their flexibility particularly important for the functioning of cell proteins such as receptors, ion channels and enzymes.1
The relative amount of EPA and DHA in cell membranes has an influence on the activity of enzymes which control signal transmission for cells of heart, nerves and hormones. In the process, countless other important enzymes are modulated.2
New research results show that EPA and DHA and their metabolites regulate gene expression at the cellular level in a very specific way, including the control of genes which take part in inflammatory processes, cell growth and aptosis (programmed cell death to eliminate diseased cells).3
1Norwegian Committee for Food Safety: Health effects of n-3 fatty acids (2011)
2Bazan: omega-3 fatty acids, pro-inflammatory signaling and neuroprotection (2007)
3Jump: N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid regulation of hepatic gene transcription (2008)
Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of carbon chains of varying lengths with three or more unsaturated double bonds.
Plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – contained in flaxseed, certain rapeseed varieties and in walnuts – has 18 carbon atoms and three unsaturated double bonds. ALA belongs to the short-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Exclusively found in fish and algae, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are made up of 20 or 22 carbon atoms with 4 to 6 double bonds. DHA has the longest carbon chain with the highest number of double bonds. So DHA has the highest level of bioactivity.
The Omega-3 Index
EPA and DHA are not absorbed and processed equally by all people. In addition to dietary influences, in particular quantity and composition of fats consumed as food, there also appears to be genetic factors at work. For this reason EPA/DHA requirements vary considerably by individual and may be higher than the intake levels nutritional organizations recommend.
Studies have shown that an HS-omega-3 Index of 8-11 is associated with a clearly positive impact on health.1 People in Western industrialized countries however often show values that are considerably lower.
1Harris: The omega-3 index: Clinical utility for therapeutic intervention (2010)
EU Health Claims
EPA and DHA contribute to the normal function of the heart: 40 mg EPA + DHA per 100 g or 100 kcal of food1
EPA and DHA contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure: 3 g EPA + DHA per day
EPA and DHA contribute to the maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides: 2 g EPA + DHA per day
DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function: 40 mg DHA per 100 g or 100 kcal of food1
DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision: 40 mg DHA per 100 g or 100 kcal of food1
DHA contributes to normal brain development: 100 mg DHA per day for babies and infants 6-14 months; 250 mg DHA per day for children 2-18 years
DHA contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age: 100 mg DHA per day
DHA maternal intake contributes to the normal brain and eye development of the fetus and breastfed infants: 200 mg DHA per day2
1Notice to be given that effects is obtained with a daily intake of 250 mg of the nutrient(s).
2Notice to be given that effect is obtained with an additional daily intake of 250 mg of EPA + DHA.
Australia and New Zealand Nutrition Claims
Contains omega-3 fatty acids: 30 mg EPA + DHA per serving
Good source of omega-3 fatty acids: 60 mg EPA + DHA per serving