More Detail Than You May Want to Know
EPA, DHA, and the Omega-3 family of Eicosanoids are important types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Normally our body can manufacture all of these products if it has plenty of the parent Omega-3 fatty acid called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) found naturally in green leafy vegetables, flax, flaxseed and canola oil, walnuts and Brazil nuts. (Note: DHA is not to be confused with DHEA, a popular hormonal supplement).
Our bodies convert ALA to EPA; EPA to DHA; and DHA to Omega-3 Eichosanoids. There are many things that can interfere with this process, especially vegetable oils in the diet. Note that it is possible to acquire EPA and DHA directly by eating fish oil, certain eggs, or by taking supplements. Fatty fish contain plenty of both substances. Plenty of studies have shown that fish-eating cultures have much better health, including mental health.
DHA is particularly important for brain functions. Scientists have discovered that severely depressed people are lower in DHA, and the more depressed they are, the less DHA they have. One ancient remedy for depression was to feed the patient animal brains, now known to be extremely high in DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids. Incidentally, alcohol is known to deplete DHA stores extremely rapidly.
While the body can theoretically manufacture its own DHA out of the parent ALA fatty acid, things can interfere with this conversion. The most important problem is an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids in the bloodstream, which use the same enzymes for a similar type of conversion. This is why it is extremely important not to have too many Omega-6 fats in your diet (the vegetable oils like sunflower and soybean oil). Other problems might inhibit the conversion process, such as a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals.
Infants who are fed formula in the United States receive almost no Omega-3's, while infants who are breast fed thrive on milk rich in DHA (the amount depends on the mother's diet). Researchers have found that infants who are fed formulas enriched with Omega-3's or who are breast fed do better visually and intellectually.
Incidentally, pregnant women experience a major loss in DHA as their DHA is rerouted to the fetus. This may be one reason depression is so common after child birth.
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