Fish Oil – Best DHA to EPA Ratio?


Flying fish shortly after take-off

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I recently switched from fish oil capsules to liquid fish oil from a bottle.  While I found the capsules very convenient, a friend suggested that taking fish oil by the tablespoon is relatively palatable, and much less expensive.  I have also switched to fish oils with higher concentrations of the Omega-3s, but I noticed that the bottled fish oil comes in various DHA to EPA ratios.  I was unsure about which ratio to choose, although I suspected that DHA is more important, and required in the body in greater quantities than EPA.  This is because it amounts to 25% to 30% of the human brain.  It turns out that there are alternate theories regarding this question. I have decided that fish oil with a high EPA ratio works better for me, although I find the taste of products with a EPA ratio above 3:1 are not as easy to swallow.

The  optimum ratio likely varies from person to person, depending on a person’s metabolism and nutrition history, as well as any ongoing health problems.  See for example the posting at  http://www.buzzle.com/articles/epa-dha-ratio.html, which notes that high DHA intake may be helpful for certain diseases.   “Research has shown that fish oil and fish oil supplements that are high in DHA and relatively low in EPA had a tendency to lower the inflammatory cytokines in the body, such as IL-6 and IL-1β. These are the cytokines that are associated with neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases in humans. Furthermore, it has been seen that the brain normally contains very high amounts of DHA but practically no EPA. Furthermore, there are certain neurological conditions that are associated with very low levels of DHA in the body. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolarity disorders, etc.”   On the other hand, a high EPA ratio may be appropriate for conditions like diabetes.  The posting notes that  “it has been found that EPA is a precursor to DHA. This is the reason why ensuring a sufficient level of EPA on a diet containing neither EPA nor DHA is harder for absorption because of the extra metabolic work required to synthesize EPA and because of the use of EPA to metabolize DHA. There are also certain medical conditions, like diabetes or certain allergies that may significantly limit the body’s capacity for metabolizing EPA from alpha linoleic acid.”

Jason Kaczynski has many Fish oil Ezine articles on the Ezine articles website.  His article on the EPA to DHA Ratio [http://ezinearticles.com/?EPA-DHA-Ratio—Whats-an-Ideal-EPA-and-DHA-Ratio-in-a-Fish-Oil-Supplement?&id=2424474] states that DHA omega-3 fatty acids are recognized as a physiologically essential nutrient in the brain and retina. They are required in high concentrations for providing optimal mental performance (cognitive function, memory, focus, learning ability, etc.) and visual acuity.  EPA (even though it’s not as important as DHA) plays an important role in regulating blood flow and maintaining a healthy heart and cardiac system.  As far as the EPA DHA ratio of a fish oil supplement goes, aim to look for a brand that has about 2 to 3 times more DHA and EPA.  (DHA intake is linked to decreased periodontal disease – see http://www.diet-blog.com/10/stop_gum_disease_with_omega-3s.php.)

However, an alternate post supports a high EPA ratio, particularly with regard to the issue of alleviating depression  [ http://www.depressionforums.org/forums/topic/21756-fishoil-omega-3-best-ratio-of-epa-to-dha-for-lifting-moods/%5D  which states the following:  “The alternative view is that the optimal EPA to DHA ratio is 7:1. This is claimed by some websites, and they claim that it is proven that this ratio is more effective.    “Many healthcare professionals recommend this 7:1 ratio, which is the highest in the industry.”  “A competition mechanism means DHA prevents EPA being completely assimilated and used (Horrobin, 2002), while by contrast, the body can transform EPA into DHA as required. ”  “It appears that EPA – rather than DHA – is beneficial for depression. Because DHA and EPA are relatively small in [molecular] structure and may compete with one other for binding sites [in the cell membranes], Horrobin (personal comunication) suggests that mixed EPA/DHA formulations may be much less effective than pure EPA preparations contaning the same absolute amount of EPA.”

I do take very high amounts of fish oil, so my experience may not be typical.  However, my initial experience has been that I noticed increased fatigue while taking fish oil with a low ratio of  EPA to DHA of 675 to 1350 mg per tsp. These days I am taking fish oil with an EPA to DHA ratio of 1640 to 820 mg per tsp (2:1 ratio, 3 tablespoons per day, Trophic Pure essential High Potency EPA Fish Oil), and 3 tablespoons of the Ascenta NutraSea HP (3:1 ratio).

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12 responses to “Fish Oil – Best DHA to EPA Ratio?

  1. My doctor tells me that high DHA is good, but then I hear others on the Internet saying the opposite for my condition. Makes me wonder.

    Seems to me that the body would need a certain amount of a nutrient, and that the ratios are irrelevant. If I need 100mg of Nutrient X and 200mg of Nutrient Y, then one would assume that a 1:2 ratio solution would be best (e.g.,a pill with 100mg X and 200mg Y). But even if I take the opposite ratio (200mg X and 100mg Y), but take twice as much, I should still be fine unless an “overdose” condition comes into play with regard to X.

    So, how much is too much EPA, and how much is too much DHA?

    If ratio really is important, can I ask why?

  2. You are correct that if you knew how much you needed to take, the ratio would not be important. However, there are no easy answers to these questions, since there are no studies which have determined the optimum amount of DHA or EPA intake, let alone the optimum ratios, nor whether there are any significant side effects from taking high dosages of EFAs. The practical reason that the ratio is important is that very few fish oil products are sold with just EPA or DHA, usually there is a combination in a specified ratio. High EPA ratio fish oil is the most common, although high DHA fish oil is generally cheaper. If you want to increase your EPA intake, you will generally have to pay more than if you want to increase your DHA intake.

    I start with the proposition that I need to consume high amounts of Omega-3s to overcome a lifetime deficiency, and to build up the level Omega-3s in the tissues of my body. I have been doubling the amount of fish oil I take every 6 months, so far without significant ill-effects. I am hoping to achieve optimum blood pressure and/or blood sugar readings. There is some logic to taking higher amounts of ALA (flax seed) and high amounts of EPA fish oil (rather than DHA) since apparently both of these EFAs are precursors of DHA, and thus can be converted to DHA as required. Also, EPA helps reduce inflammation, and thus may be more significant in reducing inflammatory diseases. Finally, there is some anecdotal evidence that in general, too much DHA can be associated with depression (see video below). However, no one really seems to know how much DHA is too much, nor even how much EPA is too much. So if you significantly increase your DHA intake and start to feel depressed or tired, you should probably consider cutting back!

    For additional information about this issue, check out this youtube video –

    The doctor in this video notes the conventional wisdom – “dha for brain, epa for heart”
    However, he goes on to quote a harvard study that indicates a high dha-epa ratio causes depression. He talks about other EFA ratios to check that he believes are important, especially for mood disorders.

    While the doctor in this video seems very knowledgeable, as noted in my post, I think that the optimum ratio may vary from person to person. Furthermore, the effects of the various EFAs have not been studied enough to be well understood. There are a lot of variables to take into account – Susan Allport in her book notes that EFA imbalances can accumulate and worsen over many years, and thus an older person may have different needs than someone younger. Also, some people never seem to show any ill-effects from eating a low Omega-3 diet, and their metabolism may be more efficient at utilising Omega-3s than others. I think trial and error has to play an important part in sorting out what the best intake amounts and ratios are. As noted, I have personally settled on a high EPA fish oil, after feeling very tired from taking a high DHA oil. I also eat lots of flax seed to get the ALA in hopes that my body will convert the ALA into whatever other Omega-3s are needed by my body.

    This and other good videos are also at my website – http://www.swamiodo.web.office.com

  3. I am wondering how you are doing on the higher epa/dha product you mentioned. I was not able to find this product online. Some fish oils are as much as 7:1 epa to dha, which seems much higher than what you mention below. Do you have new info on this subject? Thank you for your post, quoted below. — W.

    I do take very high amounts of fish oil, so my experience may not be typical. However, my initial experience has been that I noticed increased fatigue while taking fish oil with a low ratio of EPA to DHA of 675 to 1350 mg per tsp, and better function with an oil with a high EPA to DHA ratio of 1640 to 820 mg per tsp (2 tablespoons per day, Trophic Pure essential High Potency EPA Fis

  4. I live in Nelson BC Canada, so I can buy refrigerated fish oil bottles from the Kootenay Co-op (Natural Food Store). I am somewhat reluctant to buy online, because of the lack of refrigeration in shipping, and anyway, the Co-op is quite handy. They stock Ascenta fish oil, which is a common brand in Canada, but not (yet) available at the Co-op in high potency, in addition to the Trophic “High Potency” EPA fish oil. Online at the Vitamin Shop in Canada, I noticed O3mega has an even higher EPA ratio product with 1078 mg of EPA and 157 mg of DHA per 5 ml, and this is marketed as the “Only Mood Support Formula Available in North America with Concentrated EPA.” However, I note that the O3mega product (at about a 20:3 EPA to DHA ratio) has reduced total amounts of both EPA (and DHA) per serving, compared to other products that have a ratio of about 2:1.

    I started with the High ratio DHA product mainly by chance, and noticed I was sleepy in the morning, but did not make the correlation. The bottle lasts about 3 weeks. However, as soon as I started on the next bottle, which was High ratio EPA, I felt a noticeable improvement in energy.

    With regard to new information, you may also wish to check out the youtube video regarding fish oil and depression at –

    My doctor says my lipid levels continue to fall, and the most recent test showed readings better than the target (less than 2.0) for the first time. My blood pressure readings also seem to be improved (although they do bounce around a bit). My blood sugar readings have not significantly improved as yet, but at least they do not seem to be getting worse. I am considering increasing the dosage further, now I have settled on the high EPA product. I am very happy with the results so far, and I am hopeful for further improvement in time.

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