Other Name(s):

eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3 oil(s)

General Description:

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found in abundance in fish oils such as cod liver oil and haddock oil. Traditionally, cod liver oil was administered to children to help prevent vitamin D deficiency in cloudy countries like England. Consumption of large quantities of fish oil is associated with lower incidence of heart problems and arthritis, as shown in studies conducted among Inuit people.

Medically Valid Uses:

EPA has been clearly demonstrated to modify lipid metabolism and reduce harmful levels of lipids in the bloodstream and their associated damage to the lining of the blood vessels. In addition, EPA has been shown to reduce overproduction of cells that line the blood vessels (endothelial lining). Proliferation of the endothelial lining appears to be a first step in hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

EPA has also been used to treat several severe respiratory disorders including adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the use of EPA is not a standard treatment for these diseases.

Unsubstantiated Claims:

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Fish oil is also claimed to possibly play a role in cancer and heart-attack prevention. It may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Raynaud's phenomenon.

Dosing Format:

There is no RDA (recommended dietary amount) for EPA. Typically, daily dosages of 3 to 9 g of fish oil are suggested. Rather than taking a recommended amount of EPA, the level of fatty acids in the diet should be minimized. This can be accomplished by consuming increased amounts of fish or marine animals, or by taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil is high in EPA.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult a physician before taking any dietary supplements.

Side Effects, Toxicity and Interactions:

There are no known side effects associated with EPA.

There are no significant adverse food or drug interactions. The use of EPA in conjunction with other lipid-lowering drugs may be beneficial in preventing heart disease.

Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.


  1. Shahar E, Boland LL, Folsom AR, Tockman MS, McGovern PG, Eckfeldt JH. Docosahexaenoic acid and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study Investigators. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1999 Jun;159(6):1780-5.

  2. Spector AA. Essentiality of fatty acids. Lipids. 1999;34 Suppl:S1-3.

  3. de Deckere EA. Possible beneficial effect of fish and fish omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast and colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 1999 Jul;8(3):213-21.

  4. Mori TA, Bao DQ, Burke V, Puddey IB, Beilin LJ. Docosahexaenoic acid but not eicosapentaenoic acid lowers ambulatory blood pressure and heart rate in humans. Hypertension. 1999 Aug;34(2):253-60.

  5. Gadek JE, DeMichele SJ, Karlstad MD, Pacht ER, Donahoe M, Albertson TE, Van Hoozen C, Wennberg AK, Nelson JL, Noursalehi M. Effect of enteral feeding with eicosapentaenoic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and antioxidants in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Enteral Nutrition in ARDS Study Group [see comments]. Crit Care Med. 1999 Aug;27(8):1409-20.

  6. Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease [In Process Citation]. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):560S-9S.

  7. Vaagenes H, Madsen L, Dyroy E, Elholm M, Stray-Pedersen A, Froyland L, Lie O, Berge RK. Methylated eicosapentaenoic acid and tetradecylthioacetic acid: effects on fatty acid metabolism. Biochem Pharmacol. 1999 Oct 1;58(7):1133-43.

  8. Barber MD, Ross JA, Voss AC, Tisdale MJ, Fearon KC. The effect of an oral nutritional supplement enriched with fish oil on weight-loss in patients with pancreatic cancer. Br J Cancer. 1999 Sep;81(1):80-6.

  9. Schuurman AG, van den Brandt PA, Dorant E, Brants HA, Goldbohm RA. Association of energy and fat intake with prostate carcinoma risk: results from The Netherlands Cohort Study. Cancer. 1999 Sep 15;86(6):1019-27.

  10. Gee JM, Watson M, Matthew JA, Rhodes M, Speakman CJ, Stebbings WS, Johnson IT. Consumption of fish oil leads to prompt incorporation of eicosapentaenoic acid into colonic mucosa of patients prior to surgery for colorectal cancer, but has No detectable effect on epithelial cytokinetics [In Process Citation]. J Nutr. 1999 Oct;129(10):1862-5.

  11. Yosefy C, Viskoper JR, Laszt A, Priluk R, Guita E, Varon D, Illan Z, Berry EM, Savion N, Adan Y, Lugassy G, Schneider R, Raz A. The effect of fish oil on hypertension, plasma lipids and hemostasis in hypertensive, obese, dyslipidemic patients with and without diabetes mellitus [In Process Citation]. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1999 Aug;61(2):83-7.

  12. von Schacky C, Angerer P, Kothny W, Theisen K, Mudra H. The effect of dietary omega-3 fatty acids on coronary atherosclerosis. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 1999 Apr 6;130(7):554-62.

  13. Pakala R, Pakala R, Radcliffe JD, Benedict CR. Serotonin-induced endothelial cell proliferation is blocked by omega-3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1999 Feb;60(2):115-23.

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