H to the izz-O, D to the HA. That’s the anthem get’cha damn hands up!
I’d like to introduce you to the super cool and fabulous fatty acid, DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has an amazingly complex structure and because of this; very significantly alters the physiology of the body. DHA is the longest and most unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid and has several different applications compared to EPA.
DHA has an extremely kinky chain and is the omega-3 with the most double bonds lending to its special role in dynamic, fast-acting cells.
Dynamic quick acting muscles like the flight muscles in hummingbirds have extremely high levels of DHA but not their leg muscles while
the muscles found in the rattle of a rattle snake are very high in DHA whereas the stomach muscle has very little.
Areas of the body with high DHA content
DHA is found in its highest concentrations in the membranes of brain cells, our eyes, sperm, and the heart, making it the fatty acid for neural health, cardiovascular health and issues surrounding fertility and birth
DHA’s ability to flip-flop between hundreds of different shapes, billions of times per second, enables nerve cells to send their rapid signals, allows the heart to contract and integrate its beat and permits the eye to see and interpret the world around us.
DHA is of most benefit in:
- Heart health
- Neural health and cognition
- Pregnancy and child development
DHA for heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America. Several studies support the use of omega-3 fatty acids in heart disease. The heart health benefits of fish oils are so well supported in the literature that even health canada has approved claims for DHA and EPA in support of heart health.
DHA is found in large concentrations in the heart (more so then EPA). Specifically, the kinky and flexible DHA is very involved in proper membrane function in the heart and regulates heart rate by modulating how and when potassium and sodium ions cross the cardiac membrane. Thousands of studies have been done to assess the heart health benefits of omega-3s and research has revealed that DHA combined with EPA effectively decreases triglycerides, raise good (HDL) cholesterol, lower heart rate, prevent arrhythmias, and decrease blood pressure. All of these effects are extremely beneficial for the heart. Studies have even shown that omega-3 supplementation with statin administration lowers cholesterol and reduces negative effects better then statins alone!
Most importantly adequate levels of DHA and EPA have been shown to prevent and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, ischemic event, atherosclerosis and death from a cardiac event.
DHA for cognitive health
The human brain is 90% fat and a good 30-50% of those are omega-3s. In fact, it has been speculated that the development of the large human brain and our evolution as human race depended on early man consuming a rich source of DHA. The availability of DHA is literally a limiting factor in the evolution of the brain and research suggests that high levels of DHA optimize neural function. Clinical research has demonstrated that DHA supplementation is effective for preventing cognitive decline in early stage memory decline and supplementation throughout adulthood with a high DHA formula has a positive effect on the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Adequate levels of omega-3 reduce risk of dementia by as much as 67%. DHA also enhances cognition in healthy adults and teens as well. It has been shown to improve reaction time, concentration, memory and possibly sudoku skillz? (j j/k).
DHA for pregnancy and fetal health
Adequate levels of omega-3 are associated with enhanced fertility. They reduce the risk of miscarriage and have been shown to increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant.
Once pregnant, omega-3 intake during pregnancy and lactation modulate the growth, development, and health of infants. DHA is found in large concentrations in the brain and eyes of mom and her baby too! WIthout DHA, fetal development is severely compromised. Adequate maternal intakes of DHA are very important for establishing optimal health of infants. Birth outcomes such as intelligence, eye hand co-ordination and athleticism are enhanced in mothers with higher DHA status. Adequate DHA during pregnancy also creates a longer gestation time, reduces the risk of preterm birth and leads to higher birth weight and length which reduces the risk of children that are small for gestational age.
Maintaining levels of DHA and EPA during infancy and breast-feeding is just as crucial. Higher omega-3 intake throughout lactation leads to more mature and favorable behaviors in infants and children, such as: accelerated attentional functions; improved cognitive function; greater visual acuity; and improved immune responses, among other super kid benefits.
Two of the best ways to get DHA are algae oil and calamari oil. My favorite is Ascenta’s NutraSea DHA. I think its one of the world’s most sustainable high DHA omega-3s
High DHA omega-3 supplements are best for pregnant and lactating women (or women trying to conceive), seniors, individuals looking to maximize brain health and those who are at increased risk for heart disease.
DHA is the best fatty acid for areas where membrane functioning is crucial like the heart, the eye and the brain.
Finally since calamari (in NutraSea DHA) and algae oil (in NutraVeg) are high in DHA and more sustainable then fish, high DHA fish oil is also a great choice for individuals looking to a choose a more sustainable marine source of omega-3.