Because of impressive research that has been done identifying the body’s need for the important omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, there have been a tremendous number of “fish oil” products introduced into the marketplace in recent years.  Fish oils and their derivatives are a major source of EPA and DHA.  For a look at why these fatty acids are so important to our health, see the article entitled, “What You Should Know About Fish Oils.”

       There are two basic forms of EPA and DHA found in “fish oil” products.  One form is part of a fat known as a triglyceride (TG).  The other form is as an ethyl ester (EE).  Triglycerides are formed by binding (esterfying) three fatty acids with one molecule of glycerol.  Glycerol resembles a sugar alcohol.  Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate.  Part of their chemical structure resembles sugar, and part of it resembles alcohol.  TG’s are the basic fats found in the makeup of virtually all living organisms, man, animals and plants. The omega-3 fats present in fish are almost exclusively TG’s.

       Fatty acid ethyl esters (EE’s) are derived from reacting free fatty acids with ethanol.  Ethanol is an alcohol like that found in an alcoholic beverage. This process, called trans-esterification, involves removing the glycerol from a TG and substituting it with ethanol.  This process allows for the selective concentration of the EPA and DHA fatty acids to levels greater than found naturally in fish.  Much of the fish oil available in the market place is made as EE’s.  While it is possible to remove the ethanol and re-esterify the EPA and DHA fatty acids to a glycerol backbone, this process is uncommon due to cost.

Absorption of TG’s versus EE’s:   

       When you eat fish, the triglycerides (TG’s) from the fish are digested in the small intestine by the emulsifying action of bile salts from the gallbladder and the activity of the pancreatic enzyme lipase.  This process produces two free fatty acids and one fatty acid combined to glycerol.  These metabolic products are then reassembled to form TG’s and then transported via the lymphatic system into the blood.  This method of TG absorption is the same when taking a fish oil supplement where the omega-3 EPA and DHA is in the TG form.

       Ethyl esters (EE’s), being a concentrated form of the omega -3’s, are handled a little differently by the body.  The enzyme lipase separates (hydrolyzes) the fatty acids from the ethanol backbone much like it separates fatty acids from the glycerol backbone of a TG.  However, the bond of fatty acids and ethanol is much stronger than the bond between fatty acids and glycerol.  Therefore, the process of hydrolysis may be less efficient and complete with EE’s than is true with TG’s.  Furthermore, as is true with TG processing, the body must reconvert the hydrolyzed fatty acids back to TG’s which involves bonding them back to a glycerol backbone before they can be delivered to the blood stream.  Since EE’s have the Glycerol replaced by ethanol, the body must supply the glycerol form another source.  Because of this difference in how the body must process EE’s versus TG’s, some feel the EE form of omega-3 is not utilized as well by the body as the TG form.  The EE form is not normally found in nature whereas the TG form predominates in living organisms.  Some animal studies have indicated that the alcohol (ethanol) found in the EE based fish oils can be detrimental to the liver and other body organs.

       Some research has shown TG forms of EPA and DHA were 48 % and 36 % better absorbed than EE forms.  EPA incorporation into blood plasma lipids was found to be considerably less and took longer when administered as an EE.  Blood plasma lipid concentrations of EPA and DHA were significantly higher with daily portions of salmon in comparison to 3 capsules of EE fish oil.  Some studies have shown that TG’s are more stable than EE’s insomuch that EE’s tend to oxidize more readily than TG’s.

       It must be noted, however, that much of the research that has been done to determine the benefits of omega-3 EPA and DHA has been done using EE concentrates.  Such research has demonstrated benefits from using this form of EPA/DHA supplementation.  This includes a number of cardiovascular related clinical trials where EE’s have been used.  For example, one such trail involved over 11,300 patients who had experienced recent heart attacks.  Those receiving about 850 mg daily of combined EPA/DHA in the EE form for three and one-half years had a reduced risk of death from all causes including nonfatal heart attack and stroke.   While TG’s appear to have an initial advantage in benefits over EE’s, when taking EE’s over an extended period of time, the benefits seem to equal out.

 Some High Quality TG Form Products:

      While most mass market EPA/DHA supplements are in the EE form, at Milk ‘N Honey we provide both the TG and EE forms of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids.  For those wanting their EPA/DHA in the TG form, we have fresh frozen wild salmon which is caught in the pristine waters off the western side of Kodiak Island which is located near the southern border of Alaska.  This salmon is processed and frozen shortly after being caught.  The nutritional superiority of wild salmon over farmed salmon has been well documented.

       We also offer high quality Norwegian cod liver and fish oil from Carlson Company.  This oil is processed without using chemical solvents and provides the TG form of omega-3.  Another high quality fish oil supplement we carry is New Chapter’s Wholemega.  This company obtains their oil from salmon caught in pristine Alaskan waters where testing has shown the fish to be free of contaminants without the need to use molecular distillation.  Molecular distillation is used by many companies to remove contaminants and facilitate conversion of the fatty acids to the EE form.  If the temperature used in such distillation is too high, there can be damage to the molecular structure of the fatty acids.   New Chapter uses a low heat process to extract the oil.  This allows the EPA and DHA to remain in its normal TG molecular configuration and also allows for the preservation of many other components of the oil such as omega 5, 6 and 7 fatty acids along with the antioxidant Astaxanthin.  

       We also carry a product called Vectomega.  This product is made by using a unique manufacturing process which extracts phospholipids from salmon that are com­plexed with EPA and DHA through a process called vectorization. Vectorization is a gentle cold-water and enzyme extraction process which allows the EPA, DHA and phospholipids in the oil to remain in their normal TG configuration.  The extraction of the oil is carried out in less than an hour in an inert atmosphere at a temperature of less than 60 degrees centigrade.  No chemical solvents are used.  This method provides very stable oil that is very well utilized by the body.  Research has shown that ingesting EPA and DHA that is complexed with phospholipids creates up to 50 times more absorbability via cell membranes than EPA/DHA that is not complexed in this manner.

       Adding a high quality fish oil supplement to your supplement program will insure you are getting the important EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids that play a very vital role in our health.