Fats, alongside protein and carbohydrates, are one of the three macronutrients. Fats are generally referred to collectively and are often viewed in a negative light. However, fat is essential to life and for optimal biological functioning (e.g., vitamin absorption and hormone regulation).
The chemical structure of fat determines its classification (e.g., saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated). There is further stratification of fat within a class (there are various types of polyunsaturated fats, for example). Fat type is often discussed in the context of its primary food source and whether or not fat consumed is of animal or plant origin.
It is generally recognized that while we consume several types of fats, not all are essential, and some are more beneficial than others. More specifically, trans fats are to be minimized or eliminated (due to their negative effects on the human body), while long-chain polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3s, should be consumed in higher quantities (assuming a typical Western diet/lifestyle and the recognition of their beneficial effects on the human body).
There are two major families of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs): omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 PUFAs are generally pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 PUFAs are generally anti-inflammatory. There are several omega-3 PUFAs, but research indicates that there are two in particular that generate significant health benefits: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Consequently, EPA and DHA are central to our study.
EPA and DHA are considered “essential” to human health because they are not produced by the body: they must be obtained from the diet. The most common source of EPA and DHA is oily fish (e.g., salmon), although EPA and DHA can be ingested directly in various forms, such as softgel supplements. DHA also increasingly is found in non-traditional food sources, such as milk, eggs, and bread, as food manufacturers have increased the “fortification” of various types of foods with DHA over the past two decades. [This is a primary reason why we require tracking daily food and beverage intake during the study–to identify and control for ingestion of EPA and DHA outside of our study supplementation protocol.]
Although omega-3 PUFAs have been studied extensively over the past 50 years, to our knowledge there are fewer than 90 human studies within the past 20 years that have attempted to isolate the effects of DHA relative to EPA. While this may seem like a large number, this accounts for a small percentage of all omega-3-related studies during the past six decades (and correspondingly elevates the importance of our focus on examining the relative effects of DHA and EPA on human health and exercise performance).
If you are interested in reading more about omega-3 PUFAs, please let us know–we’d be happy to provide you with additional information.