The Diverse Health Benefits of DHA
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an integral part of all cell membranes especially in the brain. Because of the high concentrations of DHA in the brain, it’s often aptly referred to as important “brain food.”
According to a 2016 review published in the journal Nutrients, “Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the predominant omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) found in the brain and can affect neurological function by modulating signal transduction pathways, neurotransmission, neurogenesis, myelination, membrane receptor function, synaptic plasticity, neuroinflammation, membrane integrity and membrane organization.”*
DHA supplementation has been shown to have diverse health supporting benefits, as it supports many important functions in the human body. It is often studied alongside its companion omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
“Studies have shown that EPA and DHA are important for proper fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function,” according to a 2012 review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition. “EPA and DHA may affect many aspects of cardiovascular function….”*
A 2017 review of the health benefits of DHA in particular that was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Biotechnology described DHA this way: “one molecule-diverse functions.” That review highlighted these important functions of DHA:
- Antioxidant activity*
- Supports memory formation*
- Involved in neurogenesis*
- Acts as a signaling molecule*
The researchers conclude, “It seems astonishing how DHA, a single molecule, plays so many roles….”
Much of the research on DHA has been focused on brain health. The research supporting DHA’s role in supporting brain function is impressive. This includes a 2017 review in the journal JAMA Neurology which demonstrated that DHA supplementation supported brain.*
According to a 2016 review published in Nutrition Research Reviews, supplemental DHA not only supports cognition, it can also support mental health as well. The researchers state, “DHA has an important role in the nervous system, which is highlighted by its prominence in neural tissues.”*
The authors of that 2016 review published in Nutrients conclude, “…the modern diet typically lacks appreciable amounts of DHA. Therefore, in modern populations, maintaining optimal levels of DHA in the brain throughout the lifespan likely requires obtaining preformed DHA via dietary or supplemental sources.”
Fortunately, most omega 3 supplements contain both DHA and EPA, but there are many high quality DHA supplements also available when more of this precious nutrient is desirable.
Calder PC. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 2016;69(Suppl 1).
Cardoso C, Afonso C, Bandarra NM. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2016;29:281-294.
Hashimoto M, Hossain S, Mamun AA, et al. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 2017;37(5):579-597.
Makrides M. Oilseeds & Fats Crops and Lipids. 2016;23(1).
Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Advances in Nutrition. 2012;3(1):1-7.
Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):99.
Yassine HN, Braskie MN, Mack WJ. JAMA Neurology. 2017;74(3):339-347.