Blood & Laboratory Values

Eicosapentaenoic Acid – Function & Diseases

Eicosapentaenoic acid

Eicosapentaenoic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid . Like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), it is one of the omega-3 fatty acids .

What is eicosapentaenoic acid?

Eicosapentaenoic acid ( EPA ) is a polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acid. In English, these fatty acids are also referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Since the first double bond is at the third carbon bond, it is an omega-3 fatty acid. The body can produce EPA itself, but needs alpha-linolenic acid to do so. However, EPA can also be supplied with food. The fatty acid is mainly found in fatty sea fish such as herring, eel or mackerel.

Function, effect & tasks

Eicosapentaenoic acid plays a role in many metabolic processes . Eicosanoids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are formed from the fatty acid. Eicosanoids are hormone-like substances that act both as neurotransmitters and immunomodulators .

They are involved in many inflammatory processes in the human body. These include, for example, the widening of the vessels, blood clotting and inflammation regulation. The regulation of blood pressure and heart activity in general are also influenced by eicosanoids. Prostaglandins , prostacyclins , thromboxanes , and leukotrienes are among the eicosanoids. DHA is a fatty acid component of phospholipids . These in turn are an elementary component of cell membranes and are found in particular in nerve cells . Docosahexaenoic acid is needed primarily in the brain .

But there is also a lot of DHA in the retina . Around 97 percent of all omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and almost 94 percent of all omega-3 fatty acids in the retina consist of docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is also a starting material for the synthesis of neuroprotectins, resolvins and docosatrienes. The fatty acid can lower blood pressure and heart rate and therefore plays an important role in the treatment of high blood pressure .

Formation, Occurrence, Properties & Optimal Values

The human body depends on the supply of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for the formation of EPA. ALA is mainly found in vegetable oils. Linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, walnut oil and hemp oil are rich in alpha-linolenic acid. EPA synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid is significantly more effective in women than in men. This can be attributed to the estrogen . It appears to stimulate the synthesis of EPA from ALA.

Healthy women convert around 21% of the ALA ingested into EPA, while in men only around 8% is converted. In order for EPA to be able to be synthesized from ALA, however, the enzymes delta-6-desaturase and delta-5-desaturase must be present in sufficient quantity and activity. In order for the desaturases to be able to do their work, they need various micronutrients. In particular , vitamin B6 , biotin , magnesium , zinc and calcium are important. A deficiency in these nutrients leads to decreased EPA synthesis. The synthesis is also increased by an increased intake of saturated fatty acids, alcohol consumption , increased cholesterol levels, viral infections, diabetes mellitus and stress . Even with age, less ALA is converted.

EPA can not only be produced from ALA, but can also be ingested directly with food. The fatty acid is mainly found in high-fat cold-water fish such as herring, sardines, salmon or mackerel. Some microalgae are also rich in EPA and DHA. Fatty acids are absorbed in the small intestine .

A precise need for EPA has not yet been determined. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends an intake of 250 milligrams per day. However, all long-chain omega-3 fatty acids fall under this intake recommendation. However, the values ​​of the DGE are estimates and do not take into account individual eating habits, the state of health or the extraordinary burdens of the individual.

Both the DGE and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) consider an intake of around three grams of EPA per day to be harmless. But not only the absolute amount of omega-3 fatty acids consumed counts, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids should also be considered. At best, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be 2:1 or a maximum of 5:1. In the western world, however, the ratio is often 15:1 or even 20:1.

Diseases & Disorders

An unfavorable ratio favors cardiovascular diseases and rheumatic diseases.

However, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids is often noticeable beforehand. However, the symptoms are rather uncharacteristic, so that an EPA deficiency cannot be automatically concluded. Possible symptoms of an EPA deficiency are muscle weakness , muscle tremors , sensitivity to light , scaly skin, difficulty concentrating , loss of performance, growth disorders or sleep disorders .

The eicosanoids, which are formed from eicosapentaenoic acid, usually have an anti-inflammatory effect. A lack of EPA is therefore often reflected in excessive inflammatory reactions or inflammatory reactions that hardly subside. An EPA deficiency should also be considered in the case of allergic symptoms. In particular, the type 1 allergy is meant here. With this immediate-type allergy , the body reacts to an allergen within minutes. Typical examples of this type of allergy are hay fever or allergic asthma .

A lack of EPA also promotes the development of arteriosclerosis . Atherosclerosis is the greatest risk factor for heart attack and stroke . A lack of omega-3 fatty acids and thus also of eicosapentaenoic acid also seems to play a role in skin diseases such as neurodermatitis or psoriasis . A reduction in erythema was observed in psoriasis patients who took fish oil as a dietary supplement . The thickness of the plaques also decreased and the desquamation of the skin was much easier. In addition, the tormenting itching decreasedaway. Similar results were found in neurodermatitis .

EPA can also have a soothing effect on chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis .

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.