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What is the Difference Between EPA and GLA?

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  • Written By: Christine Hudson
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) are very similar acids in structure and property, and both can be beneficial to a person’s health. EPA, however, is an omega-3 fatty acid, while GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid. Both are polyunsaturated fat acids, but EPA is most commonly found in sea food, some sprouts, and seeds, and GLA is most commonly found in vegetable and essential oils.

An omega-3 acid is called such because of the carbon–carbon double-bond in the n−3, or third-tier, position of the chemical structure. Omega-6, on the other hand, has this carbon-to-carbon bond in the n-6 position. Three small steps do not seem like much, but they can mean a vast difference within chemical structures.

Both EPA and GLA are important to humans as a part of their diet. EPA has been shown to have beneficial effects on conditions like schizophrenia and depression and may help treat asthma and arthritis. Studies on GLA have shown the fatty acid to treat eczema, autoimmune disorders, and even premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Most nutritionists believe a healthy diet should contain a ratio of 2:1 omega-6 and omega-3, meaning a person should be absorbing twice as much omega-6 as omega-3. Many people, however, get about 1/5 the amount of omega-3 as they should and end up with a ratio closer to 15:1.

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Supplements exist in many markets for both EPA and GLA separately, and more have begun to emerge which contain both acids. The use of these supplements may be beneficial to those who are not getting enough EPA and GLA through their diets or to vegetarians who may be getting enough GLA and not enough EPA. Which supplement type and dose to take depends entirely on a person’s dietary health and other needs. Other sources may include flaxseed or spirulina, which contain both EPA and GLA.

Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 are all very important to maintaining a healthy body and mind, so it is important to understand where to get them and how much to get. It may be necessary for individuals to consult a professional nutritionist before choosing to take any EPA and GLA supplements. A nutritionist can usually review a patient’s current health needs and prescribe a custom dosage of EPA or GLA. Professionals also understand if dangers may be present based on possible health conditions or medications being taken by an individual and can further advise that patient on how to proceed without causing damage to himself.

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