DHA interview

Health benefits and market insights on DHA – interview with Adrian Hughes from ADH lipid consulting

Adrian Hughes is a DHA expert that has been working for the past 12 years as the owner of ADH Lipid Consulting. He has a PhD in Physical Chemistry and previously worked for a number of companies, including Unilever and Bioriginal, all in the area of oils and fats. During all these years he has gained a large amount of knowledge and experience in the field of oil and fats processing and their application. As a consultant, he provides services to other companies who require lipid expertise, mainly in Food, Dietary Supplements and Pharmaceutical sectors.

Hi, Adrian, we all know that there is a lot of misperception about the role of Omega 3 and particularly around the difference between EPA & DHA. Can you share your opinion about this?

Adrian: The term ‘Omega 3’ refers to a group of fatty acids not one specific type. I personally feel there are 3 specific Omega 3 fatty acids which are both important and widely studied these are; Alpha -Linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is important because it cannot be produced by the body and has to be obtained through dietary means. Hence it is often referred to as an essential fatty acid. Both EPA and DHA can be produced in the body from ALA although the conversion is poor and so direct consumption of the EPA and DHA is advised to raise the levels of these two fatty acids in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown in general to be important for cardiovascular health, neural health and inflammation control. The most widely studied area of use is of course cardiovascular health.

I can understand that there is a great difference between the two of them. How much of each do you think we need?

Adrian: There is no simple answer to this question and it depends very much on the reason for taking EPA and or DHA. The European Union for example recommends 250mg EPA and or DHA daily for adults wishing to improve general health. However other organizations around the world recommend 500mg so the general consensus seems to be between 250 – 500mg EPA and or DHA daily for adults wishing to improve general health. For other specific conditions or applications higher doses of either EPA, DHA or EPA+DHA may be recommended.

In principal alpha-linoleic acid is the only “true” essential of the Omega’s 3 group. Can you share how the bioconversion is in the body? Towards EPA but especially DHA?

Adrian: The ALA is converted in a cascade to EPA and DHA in the body through a number of steps. It starts being converted to first EPA and latterly DHA. Basically, the body takes the ALA fatty acid and repeatedly adds double bonds (desaturation) and carbon atoms (chain elongation). The conversion, particularly to DHA, is very inefficient, so relying solely on conversion from ALA to DHA is not wise and it is why the direct intake of DHA is often advised.

Highlights to the fact that there is also a specific gender influence in this, as it seems that women can still make some DHA (especially when during the pregnancy) whereas in men, DHA production is extremely low.

The body can convert DHA back into EPA in circumstances where the body does not have sufficient EPA, so it can use the pool of DHA and retro-convert it by taking away carbon atoms and a double bond to reform EPA.

DHA in the brain

What could you share about the role in Brain?

Adrian: Actually, the exact role DHA plays in the brain is not well understood. That said nature is very elegant and DHA is the most prevalent unsaturated fatty acid in the brain accounting for between 40 – 60% of all unsaturated fatty acids in brain and retina tissue, nature would not do this without a good reason. We know that DHA is particularly important in the development of the brain and cognitive development in the fetus and babies which is why DHA is mandated to be included in Infant formula’s in Europe.

Can you explain how does the anti-inflammatories properties of DHA in the brain and outside work?

Adrian: All Omega 3 fatty acids basically exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in the body to a lesser or greater extent. In the case of DHA it is the pre-cursor to a group of molecules know as ‘protectins’ which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects as this class of molecules is relatively new the exact mode of action is not well understood with most work concentrating on understanding the biochemical pathway that leads to their formation.

“There is some science out there that specific looks at the potential protective effects of DHA in stroke, which is really exciting”

And to get these effects you’ve mentioned above, does the 250mg of EPA and or DHA advice suffice?

Adrian: This is a very difficult question to answer (sort of like how long is a piece of string!). There are so many factors to consider when setting a daily intake levels eg. How much the person consumes as an average in their diet? Or what is a safe maximum dose? The EU settled on 250mg EPA & DHA but other organisations recommend higher levels for adults and general health use. The reality is (and this is my own personal view)  a person who consumes a typical western diet probably does not consume sufficient EPA & DHA daily and so I would say moving to a higher (500mg EPA+DHA) daily intake is preferable.

All really interesting and helpful, Adrian! Maybe one last closing question for you… If you look towards the future and would address fish vs algal source, what would it be your point of view?

Adrian: Both sources of DHA are important although moving forward, I think DHA from Algal source will become more important as environmental and sustainability issues come increasingly to the foreground. As humans we need to have our DHA and if sources from the sea are under pressure we need to find innovative commercially viable alternatives of which Algal is one.

Great! thank you for your time today Adrian. I am sure we will be in touch! It seems that we are definitely in the right space with our Dmax Algal DHA oil which we will continue to build upon throughout the coming years.