Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 (n-3) fatty acid considered to be nutritionally essential to maintain optimal health. There are a number of known health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acid intake, with most current research focusing on the n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). In the body, EPA is an important component of cell membranes where it can be used to generate signaling molecules called eicosanoids or can be converted into DHA. However, the human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids on its own, so these nutrients must be provided by the diet. By consuming the n-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from sources such as flax seed, the body can convert ALA into EPA, but the low rate of conversion supports direct dietary intake of EPA from foods and dietary supplements 1. The major food sources of EPA, as well as DHA, are algae and cold-water oily fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines 2. Dietery supplements containing significant amounts of EPA and DHA are typically fish oils derived from these fish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that the use of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids as dietary supplements is safe, provided that the daily intakes of EPA and DHA do not exceed 2 grams per day from dietary supplement sources such as fish oil 3. A major safety concern is the possible presence of heavy metals and toxins, which can be found in relatively high levels in fresh fish and unpurified fish oils. When considering omega-3 EPA and DHA dietary supplements, it is important to look for fish oils that have been purified to reduce the levels of these contaminants.

This ingredient can be found in the following products in United States:


  1. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.
  2. Ensminger AH, Ensminger ME, Konlande JE, Robson JRK. The Concise Encyclopedia of Foods and Nutrition. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1995.
  3. U.S.Food and Drug Administration. FDA Announces Qualified Health Claims for Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 9-8-2004. 8-18-2009.