DHA is one of the most important supplements on the market. Studies have found that most people are deficient in this essential fatty acid, and deficiencies have been linked to mental decline. The docosahexaenoic acid, commonly named DHA, is one of the polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 which are essential elements of nutrition. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential because they cannot be synthesized by the human body and consumed in one’s diet or through nutritional supplements. Among fatty acids, three have been scientifically proven to make an important contribution to good health. They are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid),  EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). DHA is found in high concentrations in the fat of several species of fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, zooplankton, and marine shellfish. Until recently, the main source of DHA was fish oil. Now, DHA has been found in vegetables too, extracted from the oils of microalgae.

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Most people in the West do not get enough essential fatty acids, including DHA, in their diets, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors recommend supplementation for a number of conditions, in particular lowering cholesterol, heart health, and diseases caused by chronic inflammation.

Entering the body, DHA is essential to the structure of cell membranes of several organs, including the brain, retina (from the eye) and the reproductive system. DHA is the basic material of membrane construction. It is found in 40 percent of the brain cells and it is a leading building block of the retina. It is essential to feed the cells and eliminate the cellular waste. Omega-3 fatty acids protected the cell membrane from the attack of free radicals. If the cell membrane is altered, the physiological process of communication between cells is disrupted and malfunction will likely occur.


  1. DHA is found in breast milk: DHA is part of breast milk and for this reason, it is often added to fortified milk or formula for babies or children. After that, it is still important for children to receive essential fatty acids because they help in the normal growth and development process.
  2. DHA is essential for the development of the child’s brain: Therefore, doctors recommend that expectant mothers eat a diet rich in DHA to make sure the child receives sufficient amounts of this essential nutrient for growth and development. DHA is an essential building block for a healthy brain, visual acuity and a fully functional nervous system.
  3. DHA plays an important role in the neurological development of babies and young children: Obtaining sufficient amounts of DHA is absolutely crucial to the diet of babies and young children. DHA is a known for its ability to change certain properties of the cell membrane, increasing flexibility and improving how it interacts with regulatory proteins. Because of this reason it has a direct impact on the activity of ion channels of the nervous system, the electrical signals and the functioning of the memory cell. For this reason, a number of studies have linked DHA to improved cognitive and learning abilities of children
  4. DHA has an anti-inflammatory effect: Essential fatty acids have a proven role in reducing the risk of occurrence of inflammatory syndromes. The anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids helps to decrease pain in rheumatic diseases.
  5. DHA plays an important role in maintaining vision: DHA is important for the development in visual acuity in infants and young children as it is an essential element of the retinol rods. DHA makes up 40% of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and 60% in the retina. It has been proven that sufficient DHA in infancy is essential for optimal light sensitivity. 
  6. DHA is a powerful antioxidant: Vitamin A and vitamin E increase the effect of DHA, providing antioxidant protection by preventing the oxidation of the double bond in fatty acids, i.e. the fatty molecules are not destroyed.


  1. Heart diseases: The American Heart Association advises heart patients to take DHA to help prevent heart diseases or ease existing conditions. Patients with heart conditions are recommended to take no more than 1 gram of DHA daily and those with high triglyceride “blood fat” counts should take between 2 and 4 g daily.  The antithrombotic (anti-platelet) action of omega-3 fatty acids prevents platelet aggregation, increasing blood flow. By reducing blood clots, the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke is reduced.
  2. Cholesterol: DHA lowers the lipid (bad fats) levels in the body. It also lowers the cholesterol levels in the blood and helps prevent sclerosis. The fatty acids remove cholesterol from the body.  Therefore, consuming omega-3 acids regularly can substantially reduce the risk of developing, and slow the progression of diseases caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by the deposit of lipids and cholesterol on the blood vessels.
  3. Alzheimer’s disease: People with a high content of DHA in the body are almost half as likely to suffer from dementia and 39 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. DHA reduces the level of protein in the body. A leading theory on Alzheimer’s is that it develops when the protein levels are too high. Moreover, DHA stimulates the production of a neurological protein that occurs in the brain and also plays an important role in protecting the brain cells from death. Studies have found that it can reduce the symptoms of autism, depression, epilepsy, and migraines.  A recent study found that people suffering from Alzheimer’s have, in those areas of the brain responsible for memory functions and cognition, 20 to 25 % less DHA compared to healthy subjects.
  4. ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Studies have found that children with learning disorders, including attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, often have an essential fatty acid deficiency. DHA helps in reducing the symptoms of hyperactivity associated with concentration problems. DHA may also help in reducing impulsivity.
  5. Memory: Elderly people who were treated with DHA have registered good results with short and long term memory improvement. A 2010 study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that DHA taken for six months improved memory and learning in older adults with mild memory complaints.

Potential side effects

  1. Allergic reaction: People with allergies or hypersensitivity to fish should avoid omega-3 products made from a fish source
  2. Gastrointestinal discomfort: Diarrhea, eructation, flatulence and abdominal cramps are all possible side effects. They can be minimized taking DHA with food, or decreasing the dosage.
  3. Deficiency of vitamin E: Fish oil taken for many continuous months can cause a deficiency of vitamin E, so consider taking this extra vitamin supplement.
  4. Risk of hemorrhage: While there is little risk at low dosage, it has been suggested that a high doses of omega-3 fatty acids increases the risk of a bleeding stroke.
  5. Drug Interaction: High doses of DHA in the blood slows down your body’s ability to clot. If you are taking a prescribed blood thinner, consult your doctor before taking DHA supplements.

DHA is one of the most important supplements that you can take. Because of its effects on infant brain development, many obstetricians and gynecologists recommended pregnant and lactating mothers consume between 200 to 300 mg of DHA daily.  Doctors also recommend that you take it to lower your cholesterol, liver disease, diabetes, and for the prevention of heart disease. It has also been linked to improvements in cognition and mental performance. As most people are deficient in essential fatty acids, DHA is highly recommended by many doctors.

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