Few nutrients have been studied as extensively as omega-3s, with over 33,000 published studies and more than 3,700 human clinical trials. Consumption of EPA and DHA have been shown to benefit the body, especially the heart, brain and eyes. In fact, EPA and DHA are essential for every cell in the body.
While understanding about the health benefits of omega-3s is commonly accepted, how and when they are consumed has been an important question. Should omega-3s be taken with food or without food? Typically, optimal absorption of ethyl ester EPA and DHA occurs with the consumption of a fat-containing meal, which helps make the EPA and DHA more available for absorption. It’s important to ensure consumers taking omega-3s are taking the right dose at the right time and in the right form.
Self-Micro-Emulsifying Delivery Versus Standard Delivery
Despite all the research on omega-3s, questions remain around the absorption of different forms and ratios of EPA and DHA. A recent study completed on healthy men and women showed enhanced absorption of EPA and DHA when administered via a self-micro-emulsifying delivery system (SMEDS) formulation, a specialized delivery system.
The study found that 500 mg of SMEDS-delivered EPA and DHA, when compared to a standard EPA and DHA formulation, resulted in significantly greater plasma concentrations of EPA+DHA. In other words, more of the omega-3 was absorbed and utilized by the body with the SMEDS EPA and DHA. Specifically, the results indicated that absorption of SMEDS EPA+DHA was more than eight times greater when taken without food. This is a meaningful finding because if people aren’t taking their EPA and DHA with a fatty meal, they might not be optimizing the potential of the product.
The study results were published in the December 2018 issue of Clinical Therapeutics. The published paper, “Effects of a Self-micro-emulsifying Delivery System Formulation Versus a Standard ω-3 Acid Ethyl Ester Product on the Bioavailability of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid: A Study in Healthy Men and Women in a Fasted State,” can be accessed online here. The research study was supported by Pharmavite, LLC, and used the Nature Made Omega-3 with Xtra Absorb product. Pharmavite provided comments on the early aspects of the study design. Interim analyses and the final data were shared with Pharmavite prior to publication, but Pharmavite did not provide any comments. The substance and conclusions are those of the authors alone.
Because it is not always convenient or desired to consume a fat-containing meal, delivery forms like SMEDS are being developed to enhance omega-3 fatty acid absorption. The proprietary SMEDS formulation may be a good option for those looking for a convenient way to increase their EPA+DHA levels.
Food & Omega-3 Supplementation
Fish have been found to be the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids; however, some plants also contain omega-3. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice a week (at least 7 oz./week), and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 8 to 12 oz. of seafood/week, which should provide an average of at least 250 mg EPA + DHA/day.
Fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna are among the highest sources of EPA and DHA in the U.S. diet. Unfortunately, the average intake remains very low, equal to 23 mg of EPA and 63 mg of DHA per day—which is well below the U.S. recommended amount. Given the low average consumption of fish in the U.S., dietary supplements are a good option to help ensure recommended intake is met.
All Americans, regardless of age, should pay close attention to their daily consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. If eating fatty fish regularly is not something consumers can or want to do, then taking a supplement to fill the nutrient gap is a good option. The recommended daily dose of EPA and DHA per day is 250 to 500 mg for basic health maintenance with higher intakes recommended to address additional health conditions such as cardiovascular heart disease and high blood pressure as well as others. For women who are pregnant and lactating, optimal intake is 700 mg a day containing at least 200 mg of DHA.