What Exactly Are EPA And DHA, Really?

We hear a lot about the importance of “healthy fats” like omega-3s—you know, the good stuff typically associated with fish and flaxseed. But two of the most popular omega 3s—DHA and EPA—are rarely broken down into layman’s terms, despite offering an impressive range of health benefits.

It’s time we get to know these powerhouses a bit better.

How Does DHA & EPA Benefit Us?

We already know DHA (a.k.a. docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (a.k.a. eicosapentaenoic acid) are types of omega-3s, but what’s an omega-3? In case you forgot or need a refresher, an omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated (a.k.a. good) fatty acids that are key for healthy body functions. You can find them in fatty fish, shellfish, algae, flaxseed, nuts, and oils, as well as in supplements.

“[DHA and EPA] are the types of omega-3s that your body most efficiently uses,” explains Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. “Both DHA and EPA are important for so many aspects of good health—from overall wellness to heart health, brain health, and even eye health.”

But do you really need them both? The short answer: yes. Despite the fact that they are both lumped into one big omega-3 category, they are not the same.

Related: Shop DHA & EPA supplements to boost your omega-3 intake. 

“DHA is the omega-3 found in greatest amounts in the brain and eyes—and is also found structurally in heart tissue,” says Gorin. “EPA is not stored in the brain and eyes in significant amounts but is very important for heart health and other aspects of health.”

According to the journal Nutrients, long-chain omega-3s like DHA and EPA are critical for health, supporting healthy heart, blood vessel, kidney, and blood pressure functions. They also lower the amount of blood fats (lipids) and help combat joint issues. More than just the physical, though, they may also benefit our neuropsychological health—especially DHA. According to Front Aging Neuroscience, DHA may help support cognitive functioning later in life. And, according to Pharmacological Research, DHA deficiency has been linked to feelings of depression.

How Much EPA & DHA Do You Need?

It depends. The Mayo Clinic says that Western diets tend to include 10 times more omega-6 fatty acids (which come from vegetable oils like corn and sunflower) than omega-3s. However, for those who largely eat a Mediterranean diet—one of the healthiest diets, and one that features fish as a staple—EPAs and DHAs may be more abundant.

Take note: Not all DHA and EPA may be as impactful, depending on its delivery system. For example, the Mayo Clinic points out that it hasn’t yet been proven whether plant-based or krill omega-3s are as beneficial to one’s health as, say, fish oil. Vegetarians may need to get their DHA and EPA elsewhere (like nuts or flaxseed), but if you can include fish in your diet, use it as your go-to source.

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

And although the amount of DHA and EPA you need is largely individual, Gorsin suggests starting with some general recommendations.

I recommend eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fatty fish like salmon and herring weekly to get in the proper amounts of EPA and DHA,” she says. “Or you could take a daily supplement providing at least 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA.” (There is currently no daily recommended amount, according to the National Health Institutes, but most supplements offer up 250-350 milligrams.)

Related: Shop vegan DHA and EPA products for fish oil alternatives.

However, you don’t need to stop at 250 milligrams, says Gorsin: “Some individuals could benefit from more than this amount—for instance, 500 milligrams per day has been found to be beneficial for lowering the risk of coronary heart disease in healthy adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women would want to take in an extra 200 milligrams daily, up to 700 to 1,000 milligrams.” (Both EPA and DHA have been linked to supporting pregnancies carried to term, according to Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology.)

“You can speak with a registered dietitian nutritionist regarding how much you should take in, how to get the proper amount of omega-3s through the diet, and how to make the diet changes to do so,” says Gorin.

7 Unique Yoga Offshoots For Adventure Seekers

Sure, you might know your Chaturanga from your Ardha Chandrasana, but can you execute them while balanced on a slackline or suspended from silks? While bending one’s self into seemingly unnatural poses may feel like an adventure in and of itself, the practice of yoga—which dates back more than 5,000 years to ancient India—is constantly evolving.

Not simply for those looking to find their Zen through a mat-based flow, thrill seekers and out-of-the-box thinkers can get their yoga on in any number of ways, each producing unique personal benefits. Whether you feel more at ease in a farm-like setting where goats roam—yep, goats—or want to engage in some exhilarating primal movements, there’s a yoga class to fit your every need and comfort level.

1. ACROYOGA

AcroYoga is the stuff of Instagram dreams, where the hashtag #AcroYoga reveals pics of skilled students showing off their moves against scenic backdrops. This partner-based practice combines beautiful yoga poses and acrobatic lifts, with one member of the duo acting as “the base” and the other as “the flyer.”

Enthusiasts insist it both tones and loosens muscles, opening up the body without a great deal of strain. It’s also considered to be mentally and emotionally therapeutic, since the act of working as a team (versus solo, like most yoga practices) to achieve high-flying poses instills a sense of partnership and human connection.

2. Slackline Yoga

Not for the faint of heart, Slackline Yoga takes even the most accomplished yogis out of their comfort zone by practicing poses—you guessed it—on a slackline (a thin strip of webbing). Hello, Cirque Du Soleil! Students typically start low to the ground on a relatively short line to get a feel for the often shaky elements of this extreme endeavor.

Heather Larsen, a professional slacker, adopted her yoga practice after being inspired by some impressive yogis she saw on social media.

“Practicing on an unstable surface really challenges you in a new way,” she says. “Imagine doing eagle pose, but the ground is moving….that is not an easy task! It, in a sense, is a moving meditation.”

Related: Get all your yoga gear right here, from mats to stability balls to super-comfy pants. 

And, because you risk falling if you err, you will have to breathe, be in the moment and stay calm, she explains. And obviously there are physical benefits: “You can’t cheat in slacklining, so your core is extremely engaged basically the entire time you are on the line.”

3. SUP Yoga

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga moves your asana practice onto the water, with an eight- to 14-ft long paddleboard serving as your “mat.” “Some of the most influential Yoga teachers of our generation have encouraged practitioners to practice near water,” says Kaycie Metzelaars, a certified yoga instructor otherwise known as The Chakra Lady. A river, lake, or shore are suitable.

For SUP newcomers, Metzelaars strongly encourages students to simply have fun with it. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says. “You might wobble, you might fall in the water, and that’s OK! You don’t have to be ‘good’ at it to benefit from the experience.”

4. Aerial Yoga

Gravity may not feel like our friend as we age, but Aerial Yoga uses the force to our advantage. Fusing classical yoga with a Cirque du Soleil vibe, circus fabrics are used to help support the body while doing familiar poses in the air.

In essence, the pull of gravity encourages the body to realign in a gentle way, which is particularly beneficial for students who suffer from back pain. Inversion poses (upside down, that is) that may have previously felt impossible for some students are suddenly within reach, adding the benefit of confidence to one’s practice.

5. Goat Yoga

Animal-assisted therapy isn’t a trend but a lifestyle. And with the advent of businesses like cat cafes, it’s only getting more popular. According to a 2012 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, pets and human-animal interactions boast a bevy of health benefits for humans. “The presence of friendly animals, both familiar and unfamiliar, can effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure or buffer increases in these parameters in anticipation of a stressor,” assert the study authors from the Department of Special Education at the University of Rostock in Germany.

Enter Goat Yoga, the practice of doing yoga among, you guessed it, a bunch of roaming goats. While fun and playful, it’s not entirely practical. As goats are natural-born climbers, they may try to take your Mountain Pose literally, or choose to take a rest on your mat. Still, YouTube videos of animal-loving yogis practicing Downward Dog while getting attention from a goat is enough to put a smile on your face and there’s certainly a positive benefit in that.

6. Laughter Yoga

An old adage does claim laughter is the best medicine, and Laughter Yoga takes the message to heart. “Laughter in combination with gentle yoga is a transformative practice no matter your age, yoga experience, or physical limitation,” says Darrin Zeer, author of Office Yoga, who teaches the practice in both corporate meetings and at resorts. “Your body doesn’t recognize the difference between real and fake laughter—endorphins are released either way.”

Incorporating choreographed belly laughs or giggles might feel, well, silly, but the potential benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced stress, according to Medical Hypothesis.

According to Zeer, his students feel “freed up” after a laughter session. “They state it loosens up their inhibitions and drastically relieves stress,” he says. “Like a euphoric sensation throughout the body and mind as if you had a glass of champagne.”

 

Related: Foam roll those aches and pains away by shopping rollers right here.

7. BUTI Yoga

Boasting a tagline that reads, “Sweat with intention,” BUTI Yoga pairs vinyasa yoga with primal movements, tribal dance, and plyometrics. Derived from an Indian term, Buti means “the cure to something that’s been hidden away or kept secret.”

The premise of the class, and what keeps students coming back for more, is harnessing your internal power to overcome fear or self-esteem issues. Powering through the challenging workout in a group setting allows both women and men to feed off one another’s energy, unleashing animal-like movements that may initially feel awkward, but become instinctual as one’s practice progresses.