Oftentimes people with ADHD are recommended to take Omega-3 fatty acids (O3FA), specifically EPA and DHA. Most EPA and DHA supplements are derived from fish oil. When EPA and DHA are extracted from fish oil, the O2FA are either in triglyceride form, or ethyl ester form. These are apples to oranges when compared to the phospholipid form. What is the difference?
First of all, it’s important to know, that EPA and DHA in the brain that is beneficial for cognitive processes is not in the triglyceride form or the ethyl ester form. Both forms must first be metabolized into the phospholipid form before it is incorporated into the neuron’s cell membrane.
Triglycerides are lipids comprised of three fats, only one of which is EPA or DHA. So, when you see Fish Oil 500 mg, if it’s triglyceride, only 1/3 of that is DHA or EPA. After it is consumed, the gall bladder produces bile, which emulsifies the triglyceride. Then the pancreas secretes pancreatic lipases that cleave the three fats from the triglyceride. Then the O3FA goes to the liver before it is added to a glycerol backbone and is attached to a saturated fatty acid, then a functional group is added to the glycerol backbone turning into a functional phospholipid. Then it may be incorporated into the brain or retina. However, much of the O3FAs that originally came from the fish oil does not make it to the brain. It makes it to other tissues.
Triglycerides must also be consumed shortly after eating. If triglycerides are not consumed shortly after eating there is a good chance very little of it will be absorbed at all.
Omega-3 fatty acids that are in ethyl ester form, are essentially O3FA that have already been cleaved from the triglyceride. Many commercial products are able to have higher dosages of omega-3 fatty acids, because it doesn’t have the other two non-omega-3 fats from the triglyceride. For example, 600 mg of fish oil may have ~200 mg of O3FA in triglyceride form, or 600 mg of fish oil may have 600 mg of O3FA in triglyceride form. This seems great, higher potency, right? Wrong. Ethyl esters are often not recognized by the body because they are not natural food compounds. Very little of O3FA in ethyl ester form are absorbed.
So let’s compare apples to apples. Cont. Phospholipid EPA / DHA