What is the Difference Between ALA DHA and EPA

The main difference between ALA DHA and EPA is that ALA is found in plant based-sources, while DHA and EPA are found in animal-based sources.

EPA, DHA, and ALA are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are mostly found in foods such as fish and dietary supplements such as fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids assist the body in growth and maintaining optimal health. They also act as energy sources. There are many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is ALA
      – Definition, Features, Function
2. What is DHA
      – Definition, Features, Function
3. What is EPA
      – Definition, Features, Function
3.  Similarities Between ALA DHA and EPA
      – Outline of Common Features 
4. Difference Between ALA DHA and EPA
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

ALA, DHA,  EPA, Omega 3-Fatty Acid

Difference Between ALA DHA and EPA - Comparison Summary

What is ALA

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a type of omega- 3 fatty acids having 18 carbon atoms. The body can convert ALA  into EPA and DHA. But this conversion does not happen frequently. This fatty acid is also a potential nutraceutical that might have neuroprotective properties.

ALA, unlike the other types of omega-3 fatty acids, is present in plants. It is present in plant oils like flaxseed, soya bean, and canola more abundantly. It is less commonly found in foods and plant materials such as navy beans, avocados, and oatmeal.

Compare ALA DHA and EPA - What's the difference?

Figure 1: Omega 3-Fatty Acids

What is DHA

DHA, which stands for docosahexaenoic acid, has a structural role in the body. It is present in the membranes of the cells. Only 0.1-0.5 % of ALA in the body can be converted to DHA; therefore, DHA is only present in minor quantities.

One of the main functions of DHA is its role in tissue growth and brain development, especially in infants. It is also required in the development of eyes in the fetal development process. In children, DHA can determine many cognitive processes and brain functions. Some of these include behavioral development, social development, emotional development, attention, and problem-solving. Studies show that there is a link between DHA deficiency in children and cognitive disorders. Moreover, DHA plays a role in the improvement of learning ability, memory, and verbal fluency in older people. The lower levels of DHA are common phenomena in illnesses like dementia. DHA also plays a role in the development of eye health and vision. It is also present largely in the retina of the eye.

What is EPA

EPA is another type of omega-3 fatty acid and stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. It is found in cold water fish, for example, salmon and tuna. It is also available in fish oil supplements along with docosahexaenoic acid.

Some of the functions of EPA are the reduction of triglyceride levels in the blood, reduction of pain and swelling, and easy prevention of blood clotting. It prevents depression and heart attacks. It also helps with diabetes, chemotherapy-related side effects, and recovery after surgery. In addition, it has a positive effect on coronary heart diseases, inflammation, and high blood pressure.


Figure 2: Interaction between DHA and EPA and the Cardiac Cell Membrane

EPA is available as an oral drug or supplement. It is likely safe when in fish oil or as a prescription drug. However, it may exhibit side effects such as nausea, belching, and diarrhea, which are mild side effects. If the dose is higher, it can slow down blood clotting, increasing the possibility of bleeding. Therefore, you should always consult your healthcare provider for the necessary dosage.

Similarities Between ALA DHA and EPA

  • ALA, EPA, and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Furthermore, they are beneficial to health in many different ways.

Difference Between ALA DHA and EPA


ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid present in plant-based sources, while EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids present primarily in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna.


ALA is found in plant-based sources such as soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds, while EPA and DHA are found in fish and other seafood.


Moreover, ALA can decrease the risk of heart disease by helping to maintain the heart rhythm and pumping at normal levels and decrease blood clots; DHA is a structural component of the retina, skin, cerebral cortex, and human brain, while EPA helps in cellular inflammation.


The most common types of omega-3 fatty acids are ALA, DHA, and EPA. They are beneficial to health in many different ways. The main difference between ALA DHA and EPA is that ALA is found in plant based-sources, while DHA and EPA are found in animal-based sources.


1. “Eicosapentaenoic Acid (Epa) – Uses, Side Effects, and More.” WebMD.
2. “Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Ala) – Uses, Side Effects, and More.” WebMD.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Acidos grasos Omega-3” By Attabey – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Interaction of omega-3s with cardiac cell membrane” By George Billman(CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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