Omega-3 DHA and EPA are primarily in cold-water fish and are the potent fatty acids associated with cardiovascular health anti-inflammatory support.*
DHA and EPA are vital, but DHA has distinct advantages. It reduces triglycerides and blood pressure, and according to at least one study, DHA increases HDL (the good cholesterol) by a whopping 29%. In contrast, EPA decreases HDL by 6.7%.*
Since men naturally have lower amounts of DHA than women, men need extra DHA.* Unfortunately, most fish oil provides equal amounts of the two fatty acids. In contrast, DHA-rich fish oil contains 250% more DHA while delivering a potent dose of EPA.*
- Decreases natural systemic inflammation*
- Supports cardiovascular health*
- Decreases muscle soreness and pain from exercise*
- Boosts metabolic rate burning more fat*
- Increases insulin sensitivity*
- Boosts mood and promotes feelings of well-being*
- Supports lean mass and muscle gains*
- Switches the body to prefer burning fat over glycogen*
- Increases leptin decreasing appetite and cravings*
- Boosts cellular (mitochondrial) energy consumption*
Cold-water fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA. Numerous studies show DHA and EPA have potent health and athletic effects:
Omega-3s Fight Inflammation
Omega-3s combat inflammation by binding a protein receptor (GPR120) on immune cells involved in inflammation, shutting down nearly all inflammatory pathways.
Omega-3s Improve Muscle Function
DHA/EPA incorporate into the cell membrane and improve fluidity, cell function, and cellular protein activities. Scientists from the University of Stirling (UK) find those effects enhance training adaptations in athletes, including strength, power, endurance, and exercise recovery.
Omega-3s Increase Hypertrophy and Strength
DHA/EPA enhances muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the primary driver of muscle hypertrophy from exercise and adequate protein:
- Smith et al. (2011) show that dietary omega-3s potentiate the MPS to amino acid infusion. The researchers also note an uptick in mTOR activity, the regulator of muscle growth.
- Similarly, scientists from the University of Stirling find that 4 weeks of 5 grams daily of omega-3s stimulate a signaling protein (focal adhesion kinase; FAK) that regulates MPS. They also find that while it takes about 2 weeks to see increased incorporation of these fatty acids into muscle-cell membranes, the levels continue growing with no ceiling.
- Smith et al. (2015) find when older adults take 3.36 grams of omega-3 daily for six months, they increase thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, and 1RM strength over the placebo group.
- Another study finds that 2 grams of omega-3s daily increases peak torque and contractile speed with 90 and 150 days of supplementation.
Omega-3s and Endurance-Based Athletes
Omega-3 fatty acids positively affect endurance in many ways:
- Rodent studies show omega-3 fatty acids increase a crucial regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis (PGC-1 alpha). That means that fish oil leads to more mitochondria and more mitochondria equate to increased ATP synthesis. That's good because ATP is the energy currency of the cell.
- A study on obese individuals shows omega-3 fatty acid supplementation stimulates the formation of more mitochondria (Laiflesia et al. 2016).
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle, increasing carbohydrate oxidation, reducing the amount of oxygen for ATP production, and increasing exercise capacity (Cole et al. 2014).
- Eight weeks of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in cyclists reduces oxygen cost during a cycling trial (Hingley et al. 2017).
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation significantly lowers heart rate during steady-state submaximal exercise (Buckley et al. 2009).
Omega-3s and Exercise Recovery
As every weightlifter knows, repeated eccentric muscle contractions cause damage to muscle fibers, and muscle damage impairs subsequent lifting sessions and sports activity.
But because omega-3s increase the structural integrity of the muscle cell membrane and inhibit inflammatory actions, they also improve recovery.
Corder et al. (2016), Dilorenzo et al. (2014), Jouriss et al. (2011), and Lembke et al. (2014) find that fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids either reduce muscle damage or reduce muscle soreness.
Another study involving 27 biceps-curling women found that 3000 mg of DHA daily reduces muscle soreness by 23%.
DHA is a Super-Supplement
Most fish-oil supplements contain large amounts of EPA with only meager amounts of DHA when DHA is more critical to human nutrition. Here's why:
- DHA Might Make You Live Longer: Japanese researchers find that the people with the lowest mortality rates have the highest amounts of DHA in their blood:
- DHA Supports Male Reproductive Health. DHA leads to higher testosterone, larger and more robust testicles, and increased quantity and quality of sperm. The sperm membrane contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, primarily DHA. And by increasing dietary DHA, you're strengthening the membrane and improving sperm motility and concentration.
- DHA is Good for Brain Function: Sorry, EPA, but DHA is the essential omega-3 in the brain, as EPA levels are typically 250-times lower than those of DHA. DHA supports short-term and working memory, along with preventing or slowing decline. DHA also improves mood and the ability to concentrate attention.
Men Need Extra DHA
Men have higher cardiac risks than women. And men have less DHA than women, even when eating the same amount of fish. This deficiency might be related to testosterone because there's an inverse relationship between the hormone and DHA.
DHA has anti-arrhythmic effects, reduces diastolic blood pressure, and even increases HDL by 29%, compared to EPA, which increases it by only 6.7%.
Another study shows that the DHA-rich fish oil group had much lower cortisol levels in their saliva throughout the day and reported lower feelings of stress.
We All Need Omega-3 Supplementation
Unfortunately, we live in an omega-6 world, and it's killing us. Nature intends us to eat only 2-3 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. But because of our fast-food, snack-food, meal-in-a-box way of life, the omega-6 average is more like 20 times the omega-3 average.
- Barbadoro P et al. Fish oil supplementation reduces cortisol basal levels and perceived stress: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial in abstinent alcoholics. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Jun;57(6):1110-4. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201200676.
- Tabbaa T et al. Docosahexaenoic acid, inflammation, and bacterial dysbiosis in relation to periodontal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and the metabolic syndrome. Nutrients. 2013 Aug 19;5(8):3299-310. doi: 10.3390/nu5083299.
- Sarfarinejad MR. Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on semen profile and enzymatic anti-oxidant capacity of seminal plasma in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratospermia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study. Andrologia. 2011 Feb;43(1):38-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.01013.x.
- Dyall SC. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Front Aging Neurosci. 2015 Apr 21;7:52. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052.
- Esmaeili V et al. Dietary fatty acids affect semen quality: a review. Andrology. 2015 May;3(3):450-61. doi: 10.1111/andr.12024.
- So J et al. EPA and DHA differentially modulate monocyte inflammatory response in subjects with chronic inflammation in part via plasma specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators: A randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Atherosclerosis. 2021 Jan;316:90-98. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2020.11.018.
- Harris WS et al. Blood n-3 fatty acid levels and total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies. Nat Commun. 2021 Apr 22;12(1):2329. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-22370-2.
- Burhani MD et al. Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats. J Integr Neurosci. 2017;16(s1):S115-S124. doi: 10.3233/JIN-170072.
- Gertsik L et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Augmentation of Citalopram Treatment for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Feb;32(1):61-4. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0b013e31823f3b5f.
- Jensen TK et al. Associations of fish oil supplement use with testicular function in young men. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Jan 3;3(1):e1919462. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.19462.
- Mischoulon D et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Harvard Health Publishing. August 03, 2018.
- Philpott JD et al. Applications of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for sport performance. Res Sports Med. Apr-Jun 2019;27(2):219-237. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2018.1550401.