Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements

How to Get Enough DHA and EPA

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA support brain and heart function, maintain vision, improve mood, and control inflammation. Here's what to look for (and what to avoid) when shopping for vegetarian supplements.

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“DHA and EPA affect every cell, every tissue, every organ in the body and cannot be replaced by other nutrients,” says Richard Passwater, PhD, co-author with Jørn Dyerberg, MD, of The Missing Wellness Factors: EPA and DHAThe omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid—better known as DHA and EPA, respectively—support brain and heart function, maintain vision, improve mood, and control inflammation. Yet only 25 percent of the population consumes either of these vital fats on a given day, and even then the average intake is far below recommended amounts.

Related: Omega-3s and Your Health

Power Source

The body can convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 found in flaxseed oil and walnuts, into DHA and EPA, but not efficiently. So, vegetarians should look to get DHA and EPA from supplements made from microalgae, which is the ultimate source of the omega-3s in fish and fish oil supplements. According to a report in Current Diabetes Reviews, getting omega-3s from either fish or microalgae oils results in increased circulation of both DHA and EPA and protection against cardiovascular risk. For a bonus, supplement makers often use sustainable microalgae grown in controlled environments, which avoids ocean-borne contamination as well as toxins such as the mercury found in fish.

Use It Right

“For healthy vegans and vegetarians, Dr. Dyerberg and I recommend supplementing with at least 200 to 300 milligrams combined total DHA and EPA and preferably up to 1,000 milligrams combined total,” says Passwater. “Where certain diseases like arthritis are present, up to 3,000 milligrams is suggested.”

Watch Out For

No adverse effects are associated with recommended doses. But do consult your health care provider if you take blood thinners or blood pressure medications.