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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-What is it?

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-What is it?


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, belongs to the class of nutrients called essential fatty acids.

DHA has been shown to reduce levels of blood triglycerides. High triglycerides are linked with heart disease in most, but not all, research. DHA alone appears to be just as effective as fish oils (which contain both DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]) in beneficially lowering triglyceride levels in people at risk for heart disease. In part, this may be because some DHA is converted to EPA in the body. Unlike EPA, however, DHA may not reduce excessive blood clotting.

DHA appears to be essential for normal visual and neurological (nervous system) development in infants. However, DHA supplementation did not affect the development of visual acuity in formula-fed infants in a double-blind trial.6 Nevertheless, other double-blind research links DHA supplementation in premature infants to better brain functioning. The effects of DHA on the nervous system may well extend beyond infancy. Young adults given 1.5-1.8 grams DHA per day showed less evidence of aggression in response to mental stress, compared with people in the control group in a double-blind trial.

DHA supplementation in healthy young men has been shown to decrease the activity of immune cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells and the cells that regulate inflammation responses in the body. The anti-inflammatory effects of DHA may be useful in the management of autoimmune disorders; however, such benefits need to be balanced with the potential for increased risk of infections.

DHA deficiency plays an important role in a group of congenital diseases called peroxisomal disorders, which damage the protective covering (myelin) around nerves. Although rare, the worst of these disorders (i.e., Zellweger's syndrome) is life-threatening within the first year of life. Daily oral supplementation of 100-600 mg of DHA has been shown to increase blood levels of DHA, to protect myelin, and to improve the signs and symptoms of these potentially devastating disorders.

Where is it found?
Cold-water fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, black cod, anchovies, and albacore tuna, are rich sources of DHA and EPA. Similarly, cod liver oil contains large amounts of DHA and EPA. Certain microalgae contain DHA and are used as a vegetarian source of this nutrient in some supplements. Most fish oil supplements contain 12% DHA.

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