Docosahexanoic Acid, or DHA, as it is more commonly known, is an essential Omega 3 fatty acid that is a key nutrient required for optimal health. DHA is commonly found in fish and marine crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, as well as in certain marine algae. While dietary consumption of DHA is the most efficient method of obtaining this essential nutrient, humans can synthesize DHA from another omega 3 fatty acid, ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), which is found in foods like walnuts and flaxseed.
The conversion of ALA to DHA is highly inefficient, with only 1% of ALA being converted to DHA. However, despite this inefficiency, ALA is often the only dietary source of DHA for vegetarians and vegans.
DHA is one of the most essential nutrients for the human body. It is present in every cell and forms a major structural component of brain, nerve and eye cells. Research has recognized the importance of DHA throughout an individual’s life, from infancy to old age, based on its importance in cellular structure and function. DHA deficiency at various stages of growth has been linked to:
- Reduced brain development in infants
- Increased incidence of ADHD
- Psychiatric and nervous disorders such as depression
- Age related macular degeneration
The interesting outcome of research in omega 3 fatty acids, and especially in the case of DHA, is that while a deficiency causes a number of diseases, an increased consumption has a number of benefits. An increased intake of DHA, even for a person with normal levels, has been associated with positive health outcomes including:
- Better brain and visual function in infants consuming high level of DHA
- Slower rates aging
- Reduction in symptoms of depression in individuals with Bipolar disorder
- Improved management of high triglycerides and cholesterol
- Anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
A large body of clinical data demonstrating the advantages of DHA exists, with an increasing number of studies adding to the known benefits of this essential nutrient. There is little doubt that DHA is a critical component of the human body, and ensuring that adequate levels of DHA are consumed regularly is imperative to ensure optimal health.