It would be nearly impossible by now for anyone who has access to the internet, a television, or reads just about any magazine or newspaper to have not heard about omega-3 fatty acids. All of us have heard about the great nutritional value found in these essential fats. Over 30 years of extensive scientific and clinical research on fish oils has illustrated their importance to human health as well as the many therapeutic benefits including neural function, diabetes, tumor regression, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and cholesterol and lipid profiles. But what many people don’t know is that when the term omega-3 fatty acid is used, it is not referring to one single substance but a group of long chain fatty acids that have similar chemical structures such as EPA and DHA. Quite recently, one of the lesser known omega-3 fatty acids has caught the attention of the medical and scientific communities: docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Recent research indicates that this omega-3 fatty acid can play a substantial role in disease prevention and proper nutrition. Briefly summarized herein are the most significant of the scientific findings.
First, just last year, researchers at Trinity College in Dublin published a ground-breaking study that demonstrated DPA can have a protective effect against the normal cognitive decline due to aging. Normally, during the aging process the cells that comprise the brain lose some of their connections. These “synaptic connections” are essential to learning and memory, and researchers have demonstrated that rats fed DPA were able to preserve these synaptic connections and, hence, concluded that DPA can help restore some of the cognitive decline seen in normal aging.*
Second, numerous clinical, cell culture, and animal studies have shown that DPA can carry out a protective role in cardiovascular health. Specifically, two clinical studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between DPA and preventing cardiovascular disease in humans. First, researchers in Finland published a study that demonstrated DPA can reduce the risk of heart attacks. Second, a Japanese study published five years later further corroborated these findings, and this study found a significant association between DPA supplementation and reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease. Scientists using animal models and cell cultures have shown that these protective effects are most likely due to DPA’s ability to reduce inflammation, endothelial cell migration and profileration, and angiogenesis, which are some of the major biochemical and cellular pathways that can lead to arteries developing plaques which contribute to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.*
Additionally, DPA can also reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels which further highlights its strong protective effects in the cardiovascular system. The last thirty plus years have seen an explosion in the number of studies conducted regarding fish oils. Consistently, omega-3 fatty acids have shown to play a positive role in numerous disease states and are now thought to be an important part of any healthy lifestyle. While the number of studies conducted on DPA has been limited, researchers’ findings have consistently shown that DPA can play a distinct and powerful role as a nutritional and therapeutic supplement in such diverse health conditions as cardiovascular disease, cognitive function during the aging process, and cholesterol and triglyceride maintenance.* While much scientific and clinical work remains to be done to fully display the significant importance of DPA as a nutritional supplement, it is becoming clear that fish oil supplementation containing DPA in addition to other types of omega-3 fatty acids, should become the gold standard of fish oil supplements.
K. Kitajka, L.G. Puskas, A. Zvara, L. Hackler Jr., G. Barcelo-Coblijn and Y.K. Yeo et al., The role of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in brain: modulation of rat brain gene expression by dietary n-3 fatty acids, ProcNatlAcadSci USA 99 (5) (2002), pp. 2619–2624.
T. Kanayasu-Toyoda, I. Morita and S. Murota, Docosapentaenoic acid (22:5, n-3), an elongation metabolite of eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5, n-3), is a potent stimulator of endothelial cell migration on pretreatment in vitro, ProstagLeukotrEssent Fatty Acids 54 (5) (1996), pp. 319–325.
N. Gotoh, K. Nagao, S. Onoda, B. Shirouchi, K. Furuya and T. Nagai et al., Effects of three different highly purified n-3 series highly unsaturated fatty acids on lipid metabolism in C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice, J Agric Food Chem 57 (22) (2009), pp. 11047–11054.
T.A. Sanders, K. Gleason, B. Griffin and G.J. Miller, Influence of an algal triacylglycerol containing docosahexaenoic acid (22: 6n-3) and docosapentaenoic acid (22: 5n-6) on cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women, Br J Nutr 95 (3) (2006), pp. 525–531.
E. Oda, K. Hatada, K. Katoh, M. Kodama, Y. Nakamura and Y. Aizawa, A case-control pilot study on n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid as a negative risk factor for myocardial infarction, Int Heart J 46 (4) (2005), pp. 583–591.
T. Rissanen, S. Voutilainen, K. Nyyssonen, T.A. Lakka and J.T. Salonen, Fish oil-derived fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid, and the risk of acute coronary events: the Kuopio ischaemic heart disease risk factor study, Circulation 102 (22) (2000), pp. 2677–2679.
Kelly L, Grehan B, Chiesa A, O’Mara S, Downer E, Sahyoun G, et al. The polyunsaturated fatty acids, EPA and DPA exert a protective effect in the hippocampus of the aged rat. Neurobiol Aging 2010. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2010.04.001.
Author’s bio: Puya Yazdi, MD, Medical, has nearly six years of experience in the medical and scientific fields in addition to working in the business sector as an advisor and consultant. He holds an MD degree from The University of Southern California and a BS degree from the University of California, Irvine in Biological Sciences. Puya underwent medical and scientific training at Stanford University and is currently undergoing further training at UC Irvine.