Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid that is an essential component of the membranes of all of our cells. DHA is a major structural fat found in the brain (it accounts for more than 90% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain) and retina (eye). The body can only make a limited amount of DHA from other fatty acids, so we need to consume it directly from food or from dietary supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, have many benefits for our bodies, brains and hearts. Omega-3s are said to reduce inflammation in the body, thus keeping the body from developing many chronic and autoimmune diseases. Getting more EPA and DHA from the diet can help lower triglyceride levels, therefore decreasing the risk of heart disease. DHA is not only essential for normal brain and heart functions, but it also promotes healthy blood flow and can modulate the adaptive immune response, especially antiviral. It serves as a precursor for different compounds needed for example to support healthy respiratory function and intestinal barrier integrity. A deficiency in omega-3s can lead to a rough and scaly skin.
A diet rich in DHA is said to lower our risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease. The omega-3s DHA and EPA are mostly found in fish and other seafood. Foods rich in DHA include fatty fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, trout, anchovy), fish roe and shellfish (e.g. crab, mussels, oysters). Other foods with high levels of DHA include animal brains, omega-3-enriched eggs, meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals. However, as the famous saying goes: all in moderation. An excess of DHA intake from dietary supplements can lead to different side effects such as bad breath, a decrease in immune function and an increase in heartburn and nausea. Lastly and most importantly, large doses of DHA should be avoided in pregnant women as they may cause nutritional toxicity and neurological anomalies in fetuses.
Athletes also benefit from sufficient DHA intake. High-intensity exercise generates free radical compounds which in excess, lead to an inflammatory state. Healthy levels in DHA support proper anti-inflammatory processes to reduce inflammation. Various studies suggest that DHA and EPA may be beneficial for athletes’ performance by improving endurance capacity and delaying onset of muscle soreness.
In conclusion, our DHA levels impact many aspects of our mental and physical health. In order to make sure that your DHA levels are balanced and steady, make sure to test your levels and to evaluate how you can make the right changes to rebalance your body and mind.