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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: ALA vs. DHA vs. EPA

First things first, if you don’t already know this, listed above are the three primary forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Before we can begin to jump into ALA vs. DHA vs. EPA we first need to understand them. So, let’s break this down for a second and ask ourselves what exactly does ALA, DHA, and EPA mean. ALA is an essential short-chain fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid. DHA is a long-chain fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid. Lastly, EPA is another long-chain fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid.  While all have their differences – ALA, DHA, and EPA all bring a benefactor to the table for the greater good of our dogs’ health. So, let’s learn more, time to get down to the nitty-gritty. 

omega-3 fatty acids

What Is The Difference Between ALA, DHA and EPA 

Aside from the obvious factor that these omega-3’s are different fatty acids altogether, they also are found in various sources and yield different benefits to our furry friends. ALA is essential because it is the only fatty acid that our dogs cannot create in their bodies. It can be found in plant foods and is necessary for the body to receive DHA and EPA. ALA’s beneficial role is supporting healthy heart function. DHA is found in seafood. Its key function is helping the brain, eyes, and central nervous system. Lastly, EPA is found in seafood and grass-fed meats. Its key function is to support the immune and inflammatory response systems. So how do you get all three of these fatty acids if each is found in different sources? 

Does ALA Convert to DHA and EPA?

Yes! The conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is the only reason we receive DHA and EPA. Now, you may be saying “but you just told us we can get it from fish or grass-fed meats.” I did, and that is because it is true. This is because the grass-fed meats and fish are consuming the ALA and doing the conversion for us. Fish eat algae, the algae hold ALA which the fish then converts to EPA and DHA. Grass has ALA which “grass-fed meats” eat and then convert the ALA to EPA.

However, the importance of allowing our dogs to convert ALA to DHA and EPA themselves is that it is the only way they will receive the omega-3 form of ALA. This is what makes ALA an essential fatty acid, the body cannot create it on its own. Due to this, one could argue that ALA is the most important since it is the precursor to the other two fatty acids, it doesn’t however mean that it is the best of the three fatty acids. 

omega-3 fatty acids

Is ALA, DHA, or EPA Better For You

The answer is no one fatty acid is better than the other. You need each in the body! Every one of these fatty acids plays an essential role in overall health. That said, the more specific benefits that each acid offers could prove life-changing to one dog more so than another.

For example, a dog with a risk of heart disease would especially benefit from ALA even though all dogs do need it. Moving forward, EPA will especially help dogs that are immune-compromised even though all dogs do need it. Can’t forget DHA, which will especially help dogs with eye problems and is important for puppies’ overall development. However, all dogs do need it. Last but not least, EPA and DHA together will especially help dogs with arthritic issues even though all dogs do need it.

Do you see the trend? While all have their differences – ALA, DHA, and EPA all bring a benefactor to the table for the greater good of our dogs’ health. It is important to not become caught up in the “better or worse” game and to keep the focus on the overall picture of health which includes all three forms of omega-3 fatty acids.

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