VegEPA is a Omega-3 fish oil supplement that has received a lot of media attention this week. Its been everywhere from the Times of London who said “Overweight children who took fatty acid dietary supplements showed dramatic improvements in concentration, reading, memory and mental agility. ” to the Indian Catholic who wrote “at the end of the three-month study found the children showed an increase in reading age of well over a year, their handwriting became neater and more accurate and they paid more attention in class“. None of this coverage of VegEPA has been at all critical apart from Ben Goldacre in the Guardian’s Bad Science column.
Then you might look at the outcomes measured. Behavioural outcomes, in a study of four children, with no control, and lots of extra attention for the subjects – including TV cameras pointing at them – are meaningless. “One boy who previously scorned books and was hooked on TV developed a love of reading and declared he was ‘bored’ with television” said the Daily Mail. I bet he did.
What is VegEPA and does it deserve the uncritical acclaim it has received?
According to the maker’s website each capsule contains 280mg of EPA, 100mg evening primrose oil and 1mg of vitamin E. They recommend children under the age of ten should take one capsule daily but older children and adults should take between four and eight VegEPA tablets. No further information is offered on how to decide how many tablets to take. The US National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 650mg of EPA where as the World Health Organization and governmental health agencies of several countries recommend consuming 300mg – 500mg of EPA + DHA daily. So the VegEPA range for four to eight tables (1120mg – 2240mg) constitutes a high dosage of EPA.
The EPA, or Eicosapentaenoic Acid to give it is full name, in VegEPA is an omega 3 fatty acid. It is metabolized to produce hormone-like agents that play a part in cell division and growth, blood clotting, muscle activity, secretion of digestive juices and hormones, and movement of substances like calcium into and out of cells. However its role in the body is extremely complex so its very hard to clearly identify whether higher-dosages of EPA are beneficial.
One of the key selling points of VegEPA over rivals such EyeQ used in the Durham trials is that VegEPA contains no Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) despite DHA being an omega-6 fish oil that has been linked to similar health benefits as EPA. The problem with DHA is that it competes with EPA for bodily resources so too much DHA may impact on the body’s ability to process EPA. As the western diet already contains as much as 10 time more omega-6 than omega-3 there is no need to take supplemental EPA.
The big question is does VegEPA help dyslexics with reading, concentration and memory? Well Igennus Ltd, the makers, have references to lot of scientific papers on their web site but not one of them is about their product. Not a single peer-reviewed study uses the off-the-shelf product in a properly controlled trial that shows any benefit in reading, concentration or memory for dyslexics of those suffering from ADHD.
A better question is might VegEPA work? Maybe. The National Institute of Health say:
The quantity and strength of evidence for the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive function and decline, dementia, and neurological diseases vary greatly. Given the overall small number of studies and generally poor quality of clinical trials, substantive conclusions about the value of these compounds for these conditions cannot be drawn.
VegEPA may work but you may as well just take normal omega-3 tablets. The simple answer is that we know that omega-3 is an important part of our diet but we don’t know how all the different bodily processes interact with it. There is no evidence that supplements of 200mg of EPA is better or worse that 2000mg for dyslexia and ADHD. It is £11.95 for 60 capsules (about 15 days worth) compared to £7.95 for 100 standard Omega-3 capules (about a month’s supply) . So going for VegEPA will cost you four times as much for something that is not clearly four times as good.