DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a conditionally essential omega-3 fatty acid, is highly concentrated in mitochondria, synaptosomes of the brain, the cerebral cortex, and the photoreceptors of the retina. It plays an important role in the fluidity and permeability of cell membranes and cellular communication, and is vital to the optimal function of the brain, eyes, heart, and immune system.[1,2] Conversion of the essential omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and then to DHA can be inefficient, making EPA and DHA conditionally essential. It is estimated that only a small percentage of ALA ultimately gets converted to DHA.
Neurological and Brain Health DHA is the most abundant structural fatty acid in the brain and nervous system and plays a vital role in prenatal and postnatal brain development. The fetus and developing infant are dependent on exogenous sources due to a limited ability to convert ALA into long-chain omega-3 EPA and DHA. Preformed DHA is transferred directly from mother to fetus and is passed to infants via mother’s milk. Pregnant and nursing women are advised to consume at least 2.6 g of omega-3 fatty acids and 100-300 mg of DHA per day in order to meet the needs of fetus or infant. Research suggests that DHA-supplemented and breast-fed infants score significantly better on mental and psychomotor development tests, and that essential fatty acids and DHA may support normal activity levels and learning capacity during preschool years.[4,5] A study of 229 infants in three randomized controlled trials suggested that a dose of 0.36% of total fatty acids as DHA (a concentration representative of human breast milk) contributed to favorable problem-solving performance, a parameter found to correlate with later IQ and vocabulary development.*
It is purported that aging is associated with decreased brain levels of DHA, and supplementation may be beneficial throughout the lifespan. Researchers propose that DHA may play a role in maintaining myelin and neuronal health, supporting healthy eicosanoid metabolism (especially in the brain), and exerting pleiotropic effects to support healthy metabolism and aging. A study of 280 healthy middle-aged community volunteers (ages 35-54) investigated the association between omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) in serum phospholipids and five major dimensions of cognitive functioning. Higher DHA levels were significantly associated with better performance in the areas of nonverbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory, and vocabulary. Neither ALA nor EPA was related to any of the five dimensions tested. DHA may also play a role in memory formation throughout a person’s lifetime. Current research has focused on the DHA-derived neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1) and its role in the health and maintenance of brain cells. NPD1—an important mediator produced from DHA through the action of 15-lipoxygenase-1—appears to have a positive effect on neurotrophic cell signaling, normal cell-life cycles, and prostaglandin formation. DHA and NPD1 appear to play a regulatory role in beta-amyloid neurobiology as well.*
Eye Health and Immune Health DHA is recognized for developing and maintaining eye health and function during early life. Optimal retinal and visual cortexmaturation were understood to depend upon dietary DHA during development, and visual acuity and mental development were “seemingly improved by extra DHA.” A double-masked randomized trial of 244 healthy formula-fed infants suggests that visual acuity is significantly improved with DHA supplementation at 0.32% of total fatty acids. DHA is concentrated in the photoreceptors of the retina, is required for the functional integrity of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, and may play an ongoing role in eye health and function throughout life.[1,9] Studies on human RPE cells suggest that NPD1 orchestrates cell-protective mechanisms (including inhibition of caspase-3 activation and COX-2 expression) and thus promotes a healthy “cleanup” response after cellular insult.[9,12] Research suggests that DHA’s effects play a role in immune system balance and health as well.*[13,14] DHActive is a highly concentrated, pure form of DHA designed to support brain, eye, and overall health and well-being.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Krinsky DL, LaValle JB, Hawkins EB, et al. Natural Therapeutics Pocket Guide. 2nd ed. Hudson, OH: Lexi-Comp; 2003.
- Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):1-7. [PMID: 22332096]
- Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid
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- Singh M. Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain. Indian J Pediatr. 2005 Mar;72(3):239-42. Review. [PMID: 15812120]
- Uauy R, Dangour AD. Nutrition in brain development and aging: role of essential fatty acids. Nutr Rev. 2006 May;64(5 Pt 2):S24-33; discussion S72-91. [PMID: 16770950]
- Drover J, Hoffman DR, Castañeda YS, et al. Three randomized controlled trials of early long-chain polyunsaturated Fatty Acid supplementation on means-end problem solving in 9-month-olds. Child Dev. 2009 Sep-Oct;80(5):1376-84. [PMID: 19765006]
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- Muldoon MF, Ryan CM, Sheu L, et al. Serum phospholipids docosahexaenonic acid is associated with cognitive functioning during middle adulthood. J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):848-53. [PMID: 20181791]
- Bazan NG. Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1): a DHA-derived mediator that protects brain and retina against cell injury-induced oxidative stress. Brain Pathol. 2005 Apr;15(2):159-66. Review. [PMID: 15912889]
- Lukiw WJ, Bazan NG. Docosahexaenoic acid and the aging brain. J Nutr. 2008 Dec;138(12):2510-4. Review. [PMID: 19022980]
- Birch EE, Carlson SE, Hoffman DR, et al. The DIAMOND (DHA Intake and Measurement of Neural Development) Study: a doublemasked, randomized controlled clinical trial of the maturation of infant visual acuity as a function of the dietary level of docosahexaenoic acid. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):848-59. [PMID: 20130095]
- Bazan NG, Calandria JM, Serhan CN. Rescue and repair during photoreceptor cell renewal mediated by docosahexaenoic acid-derived neuroprotectin D1. J Lipid Res. 2010 Aug;51(8):2018-31. Review. [PMID: 20382842]
- van den Elsen L, Garssen J, Willemsen L. Long Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Allergic and Cardiovascular Disease. Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(16):2375-92. [PMID: 22390701]
- Oliver E, McGillicuddy FC, Harford KA, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid attenuates macrophage-induced inflammation and improves insulin sensitivity in adipocytes-specific differential effects between LC n-3 PUFA. J Nutr Biochem. 2011 Nov 30. [Epub ahead of print] [PMID: 22137266]