The Many Health Benefits of DHAs
DHAs are important nutrient for keeping the body healthy throughout the lifecycle.
DHA is a lipids, provides many benefits. These include maintaining a healthy heart, keeping eyes strong, fighting inflammation, improving brain and mental health, and promoting healthy birth and aging.
And though this nutrient is can be obtained from a variety of foods, it is vital to ensure you are getting for daily functions of the body. If you aren’t getting enough DHA from diet, dietary supplements are available.
What is DHA?
DHA – docosahexaenoic acid – is a type of unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.
It is considered the most complex form of omega-3 and the rarest due to it being found in only a few natural foods, including animal products and algae.
Along with ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – omega-3s found in plants – and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – omega-3s also found in animal products and algae – DHA provide a benefits to the health of the body and brain (1).
However, out of the 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA is the most important in the body. It is a key of the brain and retina of the eye, among other body systems.
Omega-3 fatty acids are most abundant in flax seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts. DHAs, in particular, are found in fatty fish and fish oils (1). Fish oil is one of the most common supplement form of omega-3s and DHA.
5 benefits of DHA in the body
As stated above, DHA is the most efficient type of omega-3 when it comes to keeping your body healthy.
It plays a key part in several vital body functions. First, however, you must consume enough DHA-rich foods every day through the diet, or via dietary supplement before it can be created.
Having an ample amount of DHA supports five main benefits – a healthy heart, keeps eyes strong, fights inflammation, may improve brain and mental health, and promotes healthy birth and aging.
- Keeps the heart healthy
Omega-3s are commonly recommended for heart and cardiovascular health.
Because it is an unsaturated fatty acid, it eases inflammation and the damage it can cause in the blood vessels. In turn, you may see many benefits from a reduction in inflammation, including an improved blood lipid profile (LDLs, HDLs, TGs) and lowered blood pressure (2).
When using Omega-3s for heart health, studies have also shown that using DHA and EPA combined is most effective (3).
- Maintains eye health
DHA is a major structural component of the eye – in the retina, specifically.
Understandably, low levels of DHA has been connected to complications in the eye, like dry eyes.
It can also lead to and several mild to serious eye diseases. This includes age-related macular degeneration, which is the world’s leading cause of blindness (4).
However, an ample intake and/or supplement of DHA may help slow the impact of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and blindness (5).
- Fights inflammation
Omega-3s and DHA are responsible for reducing the production of stress substances the body releases as result of the immune response (5). These substances then cause inflammation to occur.
Inflammation is a response to damage in the body and is a natural and vital defense mechanism.
However, there are time inflammation can occur for long periods of time – aka: chronic inflammation – with or without the presence of an infection or injury (5).
This long-term inflammation can give risk to a host of health complications, including cardiovascular diseases.
- May improve brain and mental health
Omega-3s are essential for brain function and mental health. DHA making up 30% of all brain matter (4).
Maintaining an adequate intake can provide many benefits to the brain, regardless of age. This includes improving the symptoms of disabling mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
For children, Omega-3s have shown to reduce symptoms hyperactivity and ADHD, plus improve attention span and learning (5).
It also maintains cognitive function and reduces mental decline in the elderly.
- Promotes health throughout the lifecycle
Throughout the lifecycle, Omega-3s and DHA are important to maintain health.
During the development cycle from birth to childhood, DHA is responsible for brain and eye growth. It also reduces the risk of pre-term birth for expecting mothers (3).
For the aging population, it reduces the decline of cognitive function and lessens the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (3).
The daily requirement of Omega 3s and DHA
There is no set daily requirement of omega-3s, but experts recommend 200 – 500 mg of omega 3s per day as a general guideline (3).
Similarly, there is also no upper limit of omega-3s, but overconsuming the nutrient is not recommended. Governing bodies of nutrition, like the FDA, has advised a limit of 3,000 mg omega 3s per day with 2,000 mg coming from supplements.
What are the risks of low Omega 3s in the body
Under-consumption of DHA-rich foods can lead to low levels of omega-3s in the body.
Deficiency can result in the body being unable to function properly. If you have low DHA intake, you may experience any of the following symptoms (4):
- Dry, irritated, and flaky/bumpy skin
- Fatigue and poor sleep quality
- Joint discomfort
- Attention, concentration, and mood problems
- Vision impairment, and blindness in extreme cases
Opposite to deficiency, DHA can also be overconsumed.
If you eat adequate amounts of omega-3-containing foods daily, it’s important not to over consume the vitamin and go over the recommended threshold.
Symptoms of over-consumption include:
- Thin blood
- Acid reflex
Are you getting enough Omega-3s and DHA to keep your body healthy?
Lipids are important for keep the body healthy. DHA is one of the most important lipids for health.
However, low body levels of DHA can occur when not enough omega-3s are consumed through diet. This can lead to a variety of different symptoms and is when a supplement may be needed.
It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to discuss if you getting enough daily omega-3s or if a supplement is needed.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD
Allison Lansman is a Registered Dietitian (RD), freelance nutrition and health writer, and wellness blogger. She is the owner/operator of The Freelance RD writing service and blog. Her business provides mainly writing services, but also product development, educational services and brand partnerships.
As an RD, Allison embraces a modern approach to nutrition and wellness. She believes we benefit most from building positive, balanced connections between mind, body, food, and environment. And she is passionate about sharing that philosophy through wellness communication and writing.
Her educational background is through Iowa State University, where she completed both her undergraduate degree and dietetics internship. She is currently studying towards an Masters in Public Health.