Omega-3 Dosage: How much EPA and DHA should I take?
- Unlike most vitamins and nutrients, a set standard or general consensus about how much omega-3s a person should consume every day has not been established
- A number of factors contribute to an individual’s omega-3 status, making it difficult to estimate the amount of EPA+DHA needed for optimal cellular health
- Omega-3 blood testing is the most efficient way to measure your omega-3 blood levels and determine your personal dietary requirements
- Research has historically tended to use smaller doses of EPA and DHA, despite evidence that higher doses are safe, well-tolerated, and better able to increase omega-3 levels
Virtually all our cells depend on omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
The average human body is composed of approximately 37 trillion cells and virtually all of them depend on omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for maintaining foundational daily cellular activities.1,2 Although humans are able to synthesize EPA and DHA from alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)—a fatty acid precursor found in flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil—because ALA’s conversion into EPA and DHA is very low, it is generally recommended that EPA and DHA be consumed directly through dietary sources including cold-water fatty fish and/or fish oil supplements.3,4
After learning of their impressive benefits for heart, brain, immune, and cellular health, one of the first things people want to know is, how much EPA and DHA should they take to meet their daily needs. While this may seem like a simple question, because a number of factors contribute to an individual’s omega-3 status, the answer can actually be quite complicated.
To help answer this question of dosing, several health organizations have released their own dosing recommendations, and typically advise that healthy adults consume a minimum of 500 mg of EPA and DHA each day.5,6 While modest dosing may have been a sound, precautionary tactic at an earlier point in the omega-3 literature, accumulating evidence suggests that larger doses are safe and more effective for optimizing health.7–9 Moreover, smaller doses are less likely to provide sufficient support for all people, given that differences in diet and metabolism mean some individuals require much greater amounts of EPA and DHA than others.10
Omega-3 requirements vary from person to person
A number of variables factor into the amount of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids an individual’s body will require for maintaining normal cellular and metabolic activities. More specifically, variables including age, sex, diet, body mass, genetics, medication use, health status, and exposure to pollutants and toxins all affect how well someone metabolizes dietary fatty acids, and thus, their omega-3 status.11,12 This variability in omega-3 status also helps explain why we tend to see mixed results at the outcome of omega-3 research trials.10
For example, giving a fixed dose of 1/g day to someone who is wildly deficient in omega-3s may barely move the needle in terms of increasing omega-3 blood levels, whereas giving the same fixed dose to someone who eats a diet rich in fish and has no trouble metabolizing dietary fats may be perfectly sufficient for achieving a therapeutic EPA + DHA blood level. In light of this variability, Nordic Naturals believes that EPA+DHA recommendations should be based on individual omega-3 needs and requirements whenever possible.
Omega-3 blood testing: Important numbers to know
The fastest and most efficient way to determine your omega-3 requirements is by taking a blood test to evaluate your omega-3 index and working with a health professional to determine a dosing regimen that best suits your needs. Those interested in optimizing their health can work directly with their primary care physician to obtain testing services, establish a supplementation regimen, and retest their omega-3 blood levels after 3-6 months to gauge how their omega-3 levels are reacting to supplementation.
Safety concerns: Is there such a thing as too much omega-3s?
Another frequently asked question concerning omega-3 dosage is the maximum amount of omega-3s a person can safely consume. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the answer to this question is not yet known. Based on their assessment of the available research, EFSA contends that the data on omega-3s is insufficient for establishing an upper intake level of EPA and DHA, but that supplemental intakes of up to 5000 mg a day are generally well-tolerated and do not increase the risks of adverse health complications, such as prolonged bleeding or cardiovascular disease (CVD).13
Omega-3 intake recommendations
All individuals, regardless of age or health status, are encouraged to undergo blood testing and work with a physician who can make personalized recommendations based on their unique dietary needs. However, in the absence of testing, the nutrition and scientific experts at Nordic Naturals have provided daily recommendations, based on life stage and general health status. These recommendations are informed by: 1) extensive review of the omega-3 and human physiology literatures, 2) consideration of the many factors impeding omega-3 synthesis and absorption, 3) clinical evidence demonstrating that higher doses of omega-3s result in higher omega-3 levels,10,14 and 4) research indicating that doses as large as 5000 mg per day are safe for daily consumption by adults.13
- Healthy Infants and Toddlers (ages 0-4): 500 to 800 mg EPA+DHA per day
- Healthy Children (ages 4-12): 2000 mg EPA+DHA per day
- Healthy Adolescents (ages 13-18): 2000-3000 mg EPA+DHA per day
- Healthy Adults (ages 18+): 3000-4000 mg EPA+DHA per day
3000-4000 mg of EPA and DHA per day is supportive for most healthy adults
As you likely noted, these intake recommendations are substantially higher than those provided by other health organizations, who generally recommend healthy adults take a minimum of 500 mg of EPA+DHA daily.6 It is important to recognize that these more modest intake recommendations are suggested minimums, rather than recommendations for optimal cellular health and functioning. Moreover, these modest intake recommendations are informed by research which has historically tended to err on the side of caution by using smaller doses, when we now have sufficient evidence that doses as large as 5g/day are safe for daily consumption and more effective for raising the omega-3 index towards cardioprotective levels.11,14
In summary, a number of factors contribute to an individual’s omega-3 status, and the amount of EPA and DHA they require for optimal cellular health. Although the only conclusive way to ensure you are meeting your daily needs is through blood testing, supplementing with 3 to 4 grams of EPA+DHA daily should provide sufficient support for most healthy adults, and importantly, buffer against the competitive effects of factors impeding omega-3 metabolism.