#2: EPA/DHA (Fish Oil)
While curcumin is only active for a short period of time, EPA and DHA are more ‘permanent’ types of inflammation-control. We obtain EPA/DHA from fish oil, and unlike curcumin, these fatty acids get physically incorporated into our cell membranes, where they remain for long periods of time. Once incorporated into our cell membranes, they exert an overall effect which is best described as a “minimizing” of the inflammatory pathways.
Contrary to popular belief, EPA and DHA are technically still “pro-inflammatory”–the cytokines (local, hormone-like messengers) they release trigger inflammatory pathways. This is important because we need inflammation in order to accomplish tasks like wound healing, strength gain after exercise, and fighting infections. How EPA and DHA fight inflammation is by being less inflammatory than their alternative membrane lipid, the omega-6 arachidonic acid. Compared to the cytokines arachidonic acid releases, EPA and DHA are downright tame!
EPA and DHA also do help resolve and protect against inflammation by releasing some anti-inflammatory compounds like protectins, resolvins, and maresins.
In the end, we need both arachidonic acid as well as EPA/DHA in our cell membranes–they are both vital to our health. Most Western diets contain a paucity of omega-3 fats and an abundance of omega-6s, though, and the result is that we wind up with higher amounts of arachidonic acid in our cell membranes and lower amounts of EPA/DHA. This sets us up to be much more prone to the negative effects associated with inflammation.
Thankfully, we can boost the EPA/DHA content of our cells easily by obtaining greater amounts from the diet. Preformed EPA and DHA are the most effective, as our cells can essentially move them right in without extra processing. We can also use the plant-based omega-3, ALA, to form our own EPA/DHA, but the process is inefficient–only about 10 – 15% gets converted, which would require you to eat the equivalent of 7 – 10 tablespoons of chia seeds a day.
We can get preformed EPA and DHA from oily fishes like salmon, tuna, and sardines, but cost may be an issue, as might be toxicity. Larger predatory fish like tuna accumulate mercury and are not safe to eat frequently. Salmon are safer, and sardines have negligible risk, but to acquire optimal amounts of EPA and DHA from fish you would need to eat at least one serving a day–a feat which is not always appealing or possible.
Fish oil pills provide a much more cost-effective and simple way to obtain optimal amounts of daily EPA/DHA. Dosage varies, but most healthy adults would be better off consuming 2 to 3 grams of combined EPA + DHA a day. Note that this is not “total fish oil”, which is a deceitful way some manufacturers market their products. A supplement might contain 1,000 mg (1 g) of “fish oil”, but of the fats in that fish oil only 300 mg might be EPA + DHA. In order to obtain 3 grams of EPA/DHA from this theoretical supplement, you would need to take 10 servings a day!
So make sure to check the actual EPA/DHA content–not only will it save you money in the end, but it will also save you from having to take 15 pills a day!
Recommended Supplement: Thorne Super EPA
Recommended Dosage: 2 grams per day (with Super EPA, that is only 3 capsules)