Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA): Benefits, Sources, and Safety

Written by Salma Younas | Last updated on August 4, 2023

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in maintaining optimal health.

These essential nutrients are renowned for their numerous health benefits, and one particular omega-3 fatty acid that has gained significant attention is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). 

EPA is known for its potent therapeutic properties and has been extensively studied for its potential in preventing and managing various health conditions.

In this article, we'll explore its health benefits and how to incorporate EPA into your diet. 

Table Of Contents

Significance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that are essential for the human body.

They are deemed "essential" because our bodies cannot produce them on their own, so we rely on dietary sources to meet our omega-3 needs. Among the different types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA holds particular significance [1].

The importance of omega-3 fatty acids lies in their role as structural components of cell membranes throughout the body.

They are integral to the functioning of various physiological processes, including maintaining the integrity and fluidity of cell membranes, supporting the health of the cardiovascular system, modulating inflammation, and promoting optimal brain function [2].

They exhibit cardioprotective, mental health, and anti-inflammatory properties. Emerging research suggests that EPA may have a positive impact on skin disorders and even certain types of cancers.

Understanding Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is derived from dietary sources such as fish and algae [3]. 

It is considered one of the most potent and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids due to its unique properties and potential health effects. EPA, along with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), makes up a significant portion of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils.

Definition and Chemical Structure of EPA

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a 20-carbon fatty acid with five double bonds, making it a highly unsaturated fatty acid. Its chemical structure consists of a carboxylic acid group at one end and a long hydrocarbon chain with alternating single and double bonds [4]. 

This structure gives EPA its fluidity and flexibility, allowing it to function effectively in cell membranes and play a vital role in various physiological processes.

Role of EPA in the Human Body

EPA plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being. It is involved in several physiological processes, including cardiovascular, brain, and eye health which will be discussed in detail later on [5].

In addition to these primary roles, EPA is also believed to have benefits in managing inflammatory bowel diseases, supporting skin health, promoting healthy pregnancy outcomes, and aiding in weight management.

Health Benefits of Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has been extensively studied for its wide range of health benefits.

Incorporating EPA into your diet or through supplementation can have positive effects on various aspects of your well-being. Let's explore some of the key health benefits associated with EPA:

Cardiovascular Health

EPA plays a crucial role in promoting cardiovascular health. It has been shown to reduce triglyceride levels, which are a type of fat found in the blood. Elevated triglyceride levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease [6]. 

By lowering triglycerides, EPA helps maintain a healthy lipid profile and reduces the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

Moreover, EPA has anti-inflammatory effects on blood vessels, helping to reduce inflammation and improve arterial function. It also helps prevent the formation of blood clots by inhibiting platelet aggregation, which can further reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

Mental Health and Cognitive Function

EPA has gained attention for its potential role in promoting mental health and supporting cognitive function. Research suggests that EPA supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety [7]. 

It is believed to influence the production of neurotransmitters and modulate brain inflammation, contributing to improved mood and emotional well-being.

EPA has been linked to enhanced cognitive performance, including memory and attention. It is involved in maintaining the structure and function of brain cells, supporting neuroplasticity, and reducing oxidative stress in the brain.

These mechanisms contribute to better cognitive health and may help protect against age-related cognitive decline.

Inflammatory Conditions

The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA make it beneficial for managing various inflammatory conditions. It can help reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease [8]. 

EPA works by modulating the production of inflammatory molecules in the body and inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes.

Eye Health

Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, are essential for maintaining healthy eyes and reducing the risk of certain eye conditions.

EPA has been associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older adults [9]. It helps protect the retina and maintain optimal visual function by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the eyes.

Other Potential Benefits

Emerging research suggests that EPA may have additional health benefits. It has shown promise in supporting healthy pregnancy outcomes, including reducing the risk of preterm birth and supporting fetal brain development [10].

EPA may also aid in weight management by promoting satiety, reducing appetite, and enhancing fat metabolism [11].

Incorporating Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) into Your Diet

To reap the health benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), it is important to incorporate sufficient amounts into your diet.

Recommended Daily Intake of EPA

The recommended daily intake of EPA can vary depending on age, gender, overall health, and specific health conditions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health organizations suggest consuming at least 250-500 milligrams of EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combined per day for general health maintenance [12].

For individuals with specific health concerns, such as high triglyceride levels or cardiovascular disease, higher doses of EPA (up to several grams per day) may be recommended under medical supervision. 

Natural Sources of EPA-Rich Foods

Incorporating eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) into your diet can be achieved by consuming foods that are naturally rich in this essential omega-3 fatty acid [13]. Here are some of the top natural sources of EPA:

Fatty Fish

Cold-water fatty fish are excellent sources of EPA. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and tuna are known for their high EPA content. 

Aim to include these fish in your diet at least two to three times per week to ensure an adequate intake of EPA. It is advisable to choose fish and seafood from reputable sources that prioritize sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Algae and Seaweed

Certain types of algae naturally produce EPA. Algae-derived omega-3 supplements or algae-based food products can be a suitable option for vegetarians, vegans, or individuals who prefer plant-based sources of EPA.

Look for algae-derived supplements or foods fortified with EPA-rich algae.


Some shellfish, such as shrimp and crab, contain modest amounts of EPA. While they may not be as rich in EPA as fatty fish, they can still contribute to your overall omega-3 intake.

Nuts and Seeds

While nuts and seeds are not direct sources of EPA, they contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted into EPA in the body, although the conversion rate is low.

Walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are particularly high in ALA and can be included in your diet to support omega-3 levels.

Fortified Foods

Some food products, such as eggs, dairy products, and bread, may be fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA. Check the labels of these fortified products to determine if they contain EPA and the amount provided.

If it is challenging to obtain sufficient EPA through natural food sources alone, omega-3 supplements can be considered a convenient and reliable option to support your EPA intake.

Supplementation Options for EPA

Fish Oil Supplements

These supplements are typically derived from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines. Fish oil capsules or liquids provide a concentrated dose of EPA and DHA.

When choosing a fish oil supplement, look for reputable brands that undergo rigorous testing to ensure purity and potency [14].

Algae-derived Supplements

Certain types of algae naturally produce EPA and DHA. Algal oil supplements derived from these microalgae can provide a sustainable and plant-based source of EPA.

Look for supplements that specify the amount of EPA content on the label [15].

Krill Oil Supplements

Krill oil supplements contain a combination of EPA, DHA, and phospholipids, which may enhance the absorption and bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids.

Krill oil is also a source of astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant [16]

Combination EPA/DHA Supplements

Some omega-3 supplements contain both EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These supplements provide a balanced ratio of both fatty acids. 

The combination of EPA and DHA is often recommended for overall health and well-being.

However, if you are specifically targeting certain health conditions, you may opt for a higher EPA-to-DHA ratio or consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice [17].

Factors Affecting EPA Absorption and Bioavailability

The absorption and bioavailability of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can be influenced by various factors. Understanding these factors can help optimize the uptake and utilization of EPA in the body.

Impact of Dietary Factors

Fat Intake

EPA is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning it requires the presence of dietary fats for optimal absorption. Including healthy fats in your diet, such as those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, can enhance the absorption of EPA.

When consuming EPA-rich foods or taking EPA supplements, consider pairing them with a source of dietary fat to facilitate absorption [18].

Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio

The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can impact the absorption and utilization of EPA. The modern Western diet is often characterized by an excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from vegetable oils. 

This high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can interfere with the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA in the body.

To promote optimal EPA absorption, aim to maintain a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by reducing the consumption of processed foods and increasing the intake of omega-3-rich foods [19].

Fiber Intake

Dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can influence EPA absorption. Fiber can bind to EPA and hinder its absorption in the digestive system.

While fiber is essential for overall health, it is advisable to consume EPA-rich foods separately from high-fiber meals or supplements to optimize absorption [20].

Vitamin and Mineral Status

Adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals are necessary for optimal EPA absorption and utilization. Vitamin E, for example, has been shown to enhance the bioavailability of EPA [21].

Ensure you have a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods to provide essential nutrients that support EPA absorption

Interaction with Other Medications and Supplements

When considering the supplementation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), it is essential to be aware of potential interactions with other medications and supplements.

These interactions can affect EPA supplementation's absorption, effectiveness, or safety. 

Blood-Thinning Medications

EPA possesses antiplatelet and anticoagulant properties, meaning it can help prevent blood clot formation [22]. 

If you are taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin, aspirin, or clopidogrel, combining them with high-dose EPA supplementation may increase the risk of bleeding.

It is crucial to inform your healthcare provider about any EPA supplements you are considering to prevent potential interactions or adverse effects.

Herbal Supplements and Antioxidants

Some herbal supplements and antioxidants may interact with EPA supplementation. For instance, supplements containing garlic have potential interactions with EPA [23]. 

Other Medications

Since EPA can lower blood pressure when combined with antihypertensive drugs and can lead to hypotensive states, it’s best to avoid using it in these conditions [24].

Remember, interactions can vary depending on the specific medication or supplement, dosage, and individual factors.

Always consult with your healthcare professional, who can provide personalized advice based on your medical history, current medications, and specific needs.

Genetic Variations Affecting EPA Metabolism

Genetic variations can play a role in how efficiently your body processes and metabolizes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

These variations can impact the conversion of precursor fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), to EPA or the metabolism of EPA itself. 

FADS Genes

The FADS gene family encodes enzymes involved in fatty acid metabolism, including the conversion of ALA to EPA.

Genetic variations within these genes can affect the activity of these enzymes, potentially impacting EPA levels in the body [25]. 

Some individuals may have a reduced ability to convert ALA to EPA, leading to lower EPA levels even with adequate ALA intake.

Genetic testing or consultation with a healthcare professional specializing in nutrigenomics can provide information about specific FADS gene variations and their potential impact on EPA metabolism.

Omega-3 Index

The Omega-3 Index is a measure of the EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content in red blood cell membranes.

Genetic factors can influence individual variations in the Omega-3 Index, indicating different efficiencies in EPA metabolism and utilization [26]. 

Individual Response to Supplementation

Genetic variations can also influence an individual's response to EPA supplementation.

Some individuals may experience more significant increases in EPA levels and greater health benefits from supplementation, while others may have a more modest response. 

Genetic testing or consultation with a healthcare professional specializing in nutrigenomics can help identify potential genetic factors that may impact your response to EPA supplementation.

Safety and Precautions

While EPA is generally considered safe for most individuals, there are certain factors to keep in mind to ensure its safe and effective use.

Potential Side Effects of EPA Supplementation

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal discomforts, such as stomach upset, bloating, gas, or diarrhea when starting EPA supplementation.

These effects are typically temporary and can be minimized by taking EPA supplements with meals or reducing the dosage initially and gradually increasing it over time [1].

Fishy Aftertaste

EPA supplements derived from fish oil can sometimes cause a fishy aftertaste.

This is more common with low-quality or rancid supplements.

Choosing high-quality EPA supplements, storing them properly, and taking them with meals can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing this side effect [27].

Allergic Reactions

In rare cases, individuals with allergies to fish or shellfish may experience allergic reactions to EPA supplements derived from fish sources.

If you have known allergies to fish or shellfish, it is advisable to opt for alternative sources of EPA, such as algae-based supplements, which are free from common allergens.

It is important to note that these side effects are not experienced by everyone, and many individuals tolerate EPA supplementation without any adverse effects. 

If you experience persistent or severe side effects, it is recommended to discontinue the supplementation and consult with a healthcare professional for further guidance.

Precautions for Specific Populations

Pregnant and Nursing Women

EPA supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding is generally considered safe and beneficial for both the mother and baby.

However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional regarding the appropriate dosage to ensure optimal benefits without exceeding recommended levels [28].


EPA supplementation in children can be beneficial for cognitive development and overall health.

However, the dosage should be appropriate for the child's age and weight, and it is advisable to consult with a pediatrician for guidance [29].

Interactions and Contraindications with Certain Medical Conditions

EPA supplementation may interact with certain medical conditions or medications.

It is important to disclose your medical history and all medications you are taking to your healthcare professional before starting EPA supplementation. Some specific considerations include:

Bleeding Disorders 

EPA possesses mild antiplatelet and anticoagulant properties, potentially increasing the risk of bleeding in individuals with bleeding disorders or those taking blood-thinning medications.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to evaluate the individual's specific situation and determine the appropriate dosage or possible alternatives [22].


EPA supplementation may affect blood sugar levels. Individuals with diabetes should closely monitor their blood sugar levels and work with their healthcare professionals to adjust medications or insulin doses if necessary [30].

Liver Disease

Individuals with liver disease should exercise caution when considering EPA supplementation, as high doses may be associated with potential adverse effects. Consultation with a healthcare professional is advised in such cases [31].

Shellfish or Fish Allergies

EPA supplements derived from fish sources may not be suitable for individuals with allergies to fish or shellfish. Alternative sources, such as algae-based EPA supplements, can be considered.

Mental Health Conditions

EPA supplementation may have benefits for individuals with certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder [32]. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is EPA or DHA better?

Both EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have unique benefits.

EPA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular health benefits, while DHA plays a crucial role in brain health and development. Both EPA and DHA are beneficial and work synergistically in the body. 

How much EPA should you take a day?

The recommended daily intake of EPA varies depending on individual factors such as age, health status, and specific health goals.

Generally, a daily dose of EPA ranging from 250 mg to 1000 mg is considered beneficial for most individuals. 

When should I take EPA?

EPA supplements can be taken at any time of the day, with or without food. However, taking EPA with a meal that contains some fat can enhance its absorption.

It is recommended to follow the instructions provided by the specific EPA supplement manufacturer or consult with a healthcare professional.

Is EPA an omega-3 fatty acid?

Yes, EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid. EPA, along with DHA and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is classified as an omega-3 fatty acid essential for the body's proper functioning and cannot be synthesized by the body so is obtained primarily through dietary sources or supplementation.

Is it okay to take omega-3 fish oil every day?

Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements daily is generally safe and beneficial for most individuals.

However, it is essential to follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications. 

Can EPA help with weight loss?

While EPA supplementation alone is not a direct solution for weight loss, it may have indirect benefits by reducing inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, and supporting cardiovascular health.

These factors can contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining a healthy weight. 

Is it necessary to take EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) together?

While it is not necessary to take EPA and DHA together, both omega-3 fatty acids offer distinct health benefits so consuming a combination of EPA and DHA through diet or supplementation provides a way to reap the most benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. 


Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a potent omega-3 fatty acid with numerous health benefits. From supporting heart health and reducing inflammation to promoting brain function and overall well-being, EPA plays a vital role in maintaining optimal health. 

Incorporating EPA into your diet through natural food sources or supplementation can help ensure an adequate intake. However, it is important to be mindful of safety precautions, potential interactions, and individual variations in EPA metabolism. 

Consulting with a healthcare professional is advised to determine the appropriate dosage, address specific needs, and ensure the safe and effective use of EPA. By harnessing the power of the EPA, you can support your health and well-being for years to come.


  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564314/ 
  2. The science behind dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Retrieved by https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174995/ 
  3. Do Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Have the Potential to Compete against Each Other? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7760937/ 
  4. Eicosapentaenoic Acid. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Eicosapentaenoic-Acid 
  5. Distinguishing Health Benefits of Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509534/ 
  6. Eicosapentaenoic Acid for Cardiovascular Events Reduction. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35914996/ 
  7. Supplementation with oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid, but not in docosahexaenoic acid, improves global cognitive function in healthy, young adults. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34113957/ 
  8. Role of EPA in Inflammation: Mechanisms, Effects, and Clinical Relevance. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8961629/ 
  9. Dietary Intakes of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid and Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5401792/ 
  10. Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy to reduce preterm birth. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36228573/ 
  11. Effects of α-lipoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in overweight and obese women during weight loss. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/article/med/25594166 
  12. Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Retrieved from https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2815 
  13. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/#h3 
  14. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209320/ 
  15. Sustainable production of eicosapentaenoic acid-rich oil from microalgae. Retrieved from https://ami-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jam.15508 
  16. Bioavailability of fatty acids from krill oil, krill meal and fish oil in healthy subjects. Retrieved from https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-015-0015-4 
  17. A Higher Proportion of Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) When Combined with Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) in Omega-3 Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7555332/ 
  18. Bioavailability of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0952327813000719 
  19. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332202002536 
  20. Bioequivalence of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from foods enriched with a novel vegetable. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-021-02795-7 
  21. Relationship between vitamin E requirement and polyunsaturated fatty acid intake in man. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10804454/ 
  22. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation and Warfarin. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28033135/ 
  23. Acute and chronic toxicity study of fish oil and garlic combination. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11725696/ 
  24. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on blood pressure, cell membrane fatty acids, and intracellular sodium concentration in essential hypertension. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11675948/ 
  25. Genetic Variants in the FADS Gene: Implications for Dietary Recommendations for Fatty Acid Intake. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4070521/ 
  26. Omega-3 Index and Cardiovascular Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942733/ 
  27. Prescription omega-3 fatty acid products containing highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28137294/ 
  28. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/ 
  29. Dietary intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in children. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20187993/ 
  30. Eicosapentaenoic acid improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar in overweight type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23900468/ 
  31. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548910/ 
  32. Omega-3 fatty acids in bipolar patients with a low omega-3 index and reduced heart rate variability. Retrieved from https://journalbipolardisorders.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40345-022-00253-9 

About the author 

Salma is an experienced community pharmacist who's worked at multiple well-known pharmaceutical companies including Dynatis Limited and Medipak Limited

You may also like