Tag Archives: fatty acids

Interview – Omega-3 Fatty Acid Expert Doug Bibus PhD

SNI:  Folks talk constantly about having the proper ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. What is the ‘ideal’ ratio (if it exists) and why?omega3-vs-omega6

Dr. Bibus: This is a common but very good question. With the excessive consumption of omega 6 largely as soybean oil in the standard American diet, current dietary ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 are from 10 to 20:1.  Large amounts of omega 6 in the face of smaller amounts of omega 3, reduce our bodies own metabolism omega 3, facilitating omega 3 deficiency.  See attached figure from Holman circa 1964 (Slide #3 in PPT).  Ideally if we can reduce our dietary ratio to 1:1 by limiting intake of omega 6 and/or increasing omega 3 we can get significant conversion of omega 3.  I typically state the ‘ideal’ dietary omega 6 to omega 3 ratio to be less than 5 to 1.  Below a 5 to 1 ratio we begin to see decent conversion of omega 3 and our blood levels of omega 3 increase to more healthy levels. Dr Bill Lands has made food selection simple for determining your omega 3 balance.  You can find his Omega 3-6 Balance Score program at www.FastLearner.org.

SNI: Of the omega 3 fats, what are the similarities and differences vis a vis their benefits between EPA and DHA?  Also, what’s the scoop on DPA?

Dr. Bibus: All long chain omega 3 like EPA, DPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory characteristics.  EPA however tends to be touted more as the anti-inflammatory omega 3 as it is converted into series 3 eicosanoids or hormone like compounds that have much lower inflammatory potentials than those derived from omega 6.  DHA is typically found in membranes or the bags that surround our cells.  DHA is thought to be a major player in how our cells communicate through membrane interactions of expression of genes or our DNA.  DHA is also important for glucose uptake in muscle as insulin sentivity of muscle is predicted by muscle content of DHA.  Our eyes, brain and liver have fairly high levels of DHA.  DHA makes up the majority of the fatty acids in he retina and about 20% in brain.  DPA is the exciting ‘new’ omega 3 fatty acid.  DPA has always been ‘around’ but research is increasingly recognizing its significance.  It is structural similar to DHA with just 1 less double bond.  We tend to store twice the amount of DPA in our blood than EPA and about half as much DPA as DHA.  While DPA is found only in small amounts in our diet, unless you are eating Menhaden or taking sources of menhaden oil, its significant presence in the blood comments on it potential for health.  Several studies have reported blood levels of DPA to be as predictive or more predictive of cardiovascular risk than EPA and DHA yet this nutrient is often ignored when we talk about omega 3.  DPA is in fact often referred to as “other” omega 3 on supplement labels.  There is an increasing awareness around DPA and its health benefits so look for new products touting DPA in your nutrition stores soon.

SNI: I have an acquaintance who takes 10 grams of fish oil daily.  Can you take ‘too much?’  And if so, what are the side effects?  What is the  ‘ideal’ dose of fish oil per day?

Dr. Bibus: I often take 10 grams per day which represents about 10% of my normal daily fat intake.  Can you take too much…from a practical standpoint no.  Arctic populations living on marine based diets consume on average 100-200 grams of marine based fat per day from fish, seal and whale blubber.  These populations have very low levels of heart disease but do have a tendency to bleed longer.  Bleeding is NOT a problem for people taking fish oil supplements. The FDA conservatively states that up to 3g or 3000mg of EPA and DHA are safe to consume each day.  For standard fish oil this is about 10grams per day.  There are no real side effects to fish oil consumption.  If you are taking medications to prevent clotting or have a clotting disorder you should talk to your physician about fish oil before you start taking it.  There is no federal recommendation for how much long chain omega 3 (EPA, DPA and DHA) should be in our daily diet.  I advocate consuming 2000mg or 2g of EPA, DPA and DHA combined per day.  This is about 7 – 1gram capsules of standard fish oil or 2-3 grams of concentrated fish oil.  Why 2000mg?  This is the amount required to raise our blood values of omega 3 to around 50% omega 3 in HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty acids) which is correlated with a 50% reduction in the incidence of death.

SNI:  Many middle-aged men take both aspirin and fish oil.  Inasmuch as both increase clotting time, should these two be taken concurrently?

Dr. Bibus:  Taking aspirin and fish oil both reduce clotting time which is a GOOD thing.  In America, our high omega 6 diet causes us to clot too much.  Salicylates or aspirin has many health benefits outside of reducing clotting.  Regular aspirin consumption has been also reported to reduce cancer risk.  If you have a clotting disorder you should consult with your doctor before starting any fish oil regimen.

SNI: Why do some fish oil products taste so ‘fishy’ and smell like a wharf in San Francisco while others seem to be less stinky?pier-39-in-san-francisco

Dr. Bibus:  The fishy smell from fish comes from certain nitrogen containing compounds (tertiary amines) and also from oxidized omega 3.  There are many different types of oxidized fatty acids often called aldehydes.  One type in particular can be smelled by our nose at relative small concentrations, helping our noses determine good from bad fish oils. That fishy smell comes from break down or degradation products of fish oil.  Good clean fish oil will have a very slight to no fishy aroma.  Fish oil processing helps clean up fish oil and proper storage and handling if fish oil, once made, are critical for keeping an oil healthy and oxidtaively stable.  A general rule of thumb is that if an oil smells bad it is bad and should be avoided.  Oxidized fatty acids are not healthy for u to consume.  Happily most oil producers today do a good job at produce stable oils.  There are still a few bad actors but luckily your nose can show you the way!

SNI: What new projects do you have on the horizon?  Tell the SNI audience please.

Dr. Bibus:  I am really excited to see a number of new products focused on athletic performance in the omega 3 area.  Also a number of DPA enriched omega 3 products will soon be entering the market place.  A company called Omega Protein has learned how to enrich DPA and are now selling omega 3 oils with up to 10% DPA.  There are also a host of omega 3 delivery systems that are out there now.  Emulsions are particularly interesting to me as they offer omega 3 in a form that is readily absorbed.  A number of fish oils are now concentrated which helps reduce the overall pill count to achieve 2-3 g per day intakes of long chain omega 3.

About Dr. BibusDr. Doug Bibus received his BS from Mankato State University and earned his MS in nutrition and Ph.D in nutritional biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Bibus is a community faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing and a researcher in the area of fatty acid biochemistry and nutrition. Dr. Bibus is considered as one of the top omega 3 experts in the world, a distinction that stems from his work at the academic lab (Professor Ralph T. Holman) that invented the omega 3 terminology as well as discovered the metabolism and definitive essentiality of omega 3. Dr Bibus’s research interests include the role of essential fatty acids in human and animal nutrition, the role of omega 3 fatty acids in attenuating the inflammatory response, the application of fatty acids in the treatment of disease and the impact of oxidative stress on performance animals and humans. Dr. Bibus is a member of The American Oil Chemists’ Society, The American Chemical Society, The Society for Critical Care Medicine and The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids. He has been a two-time winner of the American Chemical Society’s Award in Analytical Chemistry. Dr. Bibus is a foundation board member for AOCS and chairman of the health and nutrition division and award committee.


Omega 3 Fats and Traumatic Brain Injury

inseed backgroundBy Jennifer Broder RD LD/N CISSN CSSD and Anastasia Kyriakopoulos.

Omega 3 fats have been getting much attention over the years for the lengthy list of proven and theorized benefits. Most attention is derived from the benefit and protective effects of cardiovascular, cognitive function, and ocular health (1) (2). In athletic performance, it has been recently shown to decrease muscle fatigue and soreness (3) (4).  There is another possible role of omega 3 fatty acids that has been on the minds of National Football League: The possible use of Omega 3 Fatty acids in concussion management and rehabilitation protocol.

Concussion management has also evolved rapidly over the past 10 years primarily based in the neuroscience research. Researchers are noting a significant correlation between Omega 3’s DHA and the treatment for TBI (traumatic brain injury) and concussions. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) makes up 97% of the human brains fatty acid content (5). In fact the brain will hang on to its DHA while other organs are depleted possibly as a survival mechanism. This is worth noting as we explore the theories proposed for EPA and DHA’s role in treatment of traumatic brain injuries, hence concussions.

We know there are a cascade of events that take place upon impact and continuing afterwards.  If not dealt with, reported or even recognized (very common as one does not always lose consciousness with a concussion) this can compromise the brains integrity greatly. In an event of a concussion axonal injury can occur. The axons in the brain provide a bridge for signals to be received from cell to cell. When injured a cascade of events such as increase in free radicals, damage to cell membranes and synapses, increased levels of glutamate and intracellular calcium occurs leading to further degradation of the brains function.  DHA is the precursor to Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1) which maintains homeostasis and suppresses oxidative stress after injury (5). It is theorized that DHA can play a role in stopping or reducing this cascade of events by decreasing axonal injury, acting as an antioxidant and aiding in cell energy and repair. In fact, NPD1 may aid in altering gene expression from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory. One may then consider the nutritional epigenetic impact that daily EPA DHA consumption and supplementation can have on gene expression therefore promoting an anti inflammatory protective response following a concussion or TBI.

One important study done on 40 adult male rats who received 30 days of supplementation of DHA in the form of algae immediately post brain injury had a significant reduction in axonal injury (5).  Another study done with the same injury model with fish oil rich in both EPA and DHA revealed a similar outcome as there was also a reduction in the number of injured axons (5). Lastly, a study was done to test the effects of DHA supplementation prior to injury. The rats were supplemented with DHA 30 days prior to injury, resulting in higher levels of DHA in the brain as well as a reduction in axonal injury (5). We can also conclude from the cardiovascular, cognitive, and ocular health research that there is a great likely hood of EPA & DHA supplementation can promotes an anti inflammatory effect, optimize antioxidant activity and aid in cell homeostasis(6)(7). This then may be the nutritional tool that can be applied in concussion management.

So the question is why are we not enforcing every contact sport to have EPA DHA supplements and consume vast quantities of fish on the sidelines with their Gatorade? Well, the research is promising but there are still more questions and concrete guidelines to be established. We know EPA and DHA play these roles in treatment and prevention in concussions and TBI but the exact mechanisms, genetic differences, and individual threshold of injury are still not completely understood. Furthermore, there is still no consensus on the optimal dosages and even food intake recommendation across the health and supplement industry.

So, we as healthcare practitioners are faced with the question. Food or Supplementation to achieve possible prevention or treatment of concussions and TBI?  Hmmmmm…..what to do? Our thoughts are food AND supplementation for prevention and treatment. “The FDA has ruled that intakes of up to 3 g/d of marine omega-3 fatty acids are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) for inclusion in the diet” (10). Increasing consumption of healthy fatty fishes should be our recommendations at least 3-4x week. Realistically, most people do not consume these sources on a daily basis; supplementation of EPA and DHA daily can be our patient’s back up plan. We do believe consistency of supplementation is key to reaching adequate levels of EPA and DHA in the body while consuming foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.

For supplementation practices, one must consider the type of fish oil, the molecular form, and the manufacturing practices and standards to provide athletes safe, effective, and quality products. We have found in practice that Omega 3 supplements are best in concentrated dosages for increased compliance, the triglyceride (TG) form is far superior to the synthetic ethyl ester (EE) form because of the increased absorption and assimilation, and lastly all companies are not alike and thorough research of companies testing and protocols should be evaluated closely.

For optimal food recommendations, always remember Essential Fatty acids are “Yes!” essential because we humans have the inability to synthesize them in the body. Therefore; we must obtain them in our diet from animal and plant species that can synthesize such fats (8). It is important to note the plant sources rich in ALA are only at a ~15% conversion rate to the much needed family of eicosanoids; EPA & DHA which are the anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, anti-arrhythmic, and vasodilators(8)(9).

The current ratio of the typical Western diet is 20:1 containing more of the Omega 6s that are pro-inflammatory and less of the beneficial omega 3 fatty acids of EPA and DHA(8). The healthy ratio of EPA and DHA recommended by the Institute of Medicine is 7:1 (8). To optimize our American diets we must increase food rich in omega 3 fatty acids and off set this poor ratio. Fatty fish like wild caught salmon, herring, and sardines are excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. Below are some of the richer sources of EPA and DHA (9). Note the quantity needed to reach therapeutic dosages by food alone.


Grams of EPA and DHA per 3oz serving edible portion

Amount Required in Ounces to Provide ~1 gram of EPA/DHA per day

Catfish, wild 0.2 g 15 oz
Cod, Atlantic 0.24 g 12.5 oz
Tuna, light in water 0.26 g 12 oz
Flounder/Sole 0.42g 7oz
Tuna, white in water 0.73 g 4 oz
Mackerel 0.34-1.57 g 2-8.5 oz
Salmon, Atlantic, wild 0.9-1.56 g 2-3.5 oz
Sardines 0.98-1.70 g 2-3 oz
Herring, Pacific 1.81 g 1.5 oz


Omega 3 Fatty Acids Supplementation

EPA and DHA per capsule or

Liquid dosage

Amount Needed in Capsules or in Ounces to Provide ~3 gram of EPA/DHA per day

Nordic Naturals- ProOmega D Xtra 3g per 1 tsp 1 tsp
Original Nutritionals –Functional O3 1.375g per 1 tsp 3 tsp
Nordic Naturals- Ultimate Omega 0.60 per soft gel capsule 5 capsules
Orthomolecular-OrthoMega 0.72g per soft gel capsule 5 capsules



Therapeutic Amounts in the ranges of 2000mg and above daily are possibly beneficial for prevention to off set the ratio of Omega 6:3 in our “SAD” American diet and to possibly treat our sports and recreation related concussions in our children and adults.  The research so far has shown us the possibility that one day Omega 3 fatty Acids; specifically EPA & DHA could be incorporated into concussion protocol. We do believe that the consistent consumption of these ESSENTIAL Omega 3 Fatty Acids throughout the lifecycle could be the most important in the possible prevention and management of concussions & TBI.  More studies are needed to unfold the true potential of these crucial fatty acids and appropriate individual dosages. We definitely suggest athletes to consume more omega 3 rich foods BUT optimal dosing via supplementation is needed to meet the therapeutic demands of prevention and treatment. In conclusion, the maintenance of a balanced diet rich in Omega 3s and/or supplementation is ESSENTIAL for OPTIMAL HEALTH and WELLNESS!



Jennifer Broder RD LD/N CISSN CSSD is the Medical Nutrition Director of www.themedicalnutritioncenter.com . The Medical Nutrition Center is the 1st science based functional nutrition practice focused on health & lifestyle changes to prevent, treat, or reduce your health risks for a lifetime. Jennifer has been well known as www.askthenutritionist.com for the past 16+ years. She specializes in evidenced-based research and promotion of nutritional science focused on disease prevention and management, eating disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, wellness, & sports nutrition.


Anastasia Kyriakopoulos is a University of Florida graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition. She is currently completing her Dietetic Internship Program through Sodexo at The Medical Nutrition Center in Tampa, FL. Her areas of interest are weight management and sports nutrition.

  1. Wu A, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F., “Docosahexanoic Acid Dietary Supplementation Enhances the Effects of Exercise on Synaptic Plasticity and Congnition.” Neuroscience 2008; 155(3):751-9.
  2. Chytrova G, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F., “Exercise Contributes to the Effects of DHA Dietary Supplementation by Acting on Membrane-Related Synaptic Systems.” Brain Research 2009.
  3. Jouris K, McDaniel J, Weiss E., “The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on the Inflammatory Response to Eccentric Strength Exercise.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2011; 10: 432-438.
  4. SpectraCell Laboratories “Nutritional Considerations of Sports Medicine”. 2011. www.spectracell.com
  5. Bailes J, Mills J., “Docosahexanoic Acid Reduces Traumatic Axonal Injury in a Rodent Head Injury Model.” Journal of Nuerotrauma. 2010; 27:1617-1626.
  6. Guilliams T., “The Use of Fish Oil Supplements in Clinical Practice: A Review”. Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association. 2005; 8(1).
  7. Gomez-Pinilla F, Ying Z., “Differential Effects of Exercise and Dietary Docosahexaenoic Acid on Molecular Systems Associated with Control of Allostasis in the Hypothalamus and Hippocampus.” Neuroscience 2010; 168(1): 130-7.
  8. Antonio J, Kalman D, Stout J, Greenwood M, Willoughby D, Haff G., Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. 2008;268-270.
  9. Kris-Etherton P, William H, Appel L., “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Journal of The American Heart Association. 2002; 106:2747-2757.