What Is Docosahexaenoic Acid?
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in the human brain, skin, and retina. DHA, derived from algae, phytoplankton, fish oil, and breast milk, is a vital component. Omega-3 fatty acids have sparked interest in their potential health benefits.
DHA is commonly used to manage various conditions like heart disease, asthma, hay fever, lung disease, lupus, headaches, dermatitis, and arthritis.
Nootropic Benefits Of DHA
DHA is commonly administered to infants during the first 4-6 months of life to enhance their cognitive development. Inadequate levels of DHA in fetuses and infants have been linked to behavioral, functional, and neurological disorders.
Insufficient DHA levels have also been associated with cognitive deficits. As a result, DHA is used to prevent mental disorders in individuals with low DHA levels, despite limited consistent clinical evidence. It has been utilized to manage the following health conditions[2,3]:
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD): DHA may help reduce aggression in children with ADHD, although it does not appear to directly improve ADHD symptoms.
- Depression: DHA may have a mildly positive impact on mood and reduce aggressive behavior.
- Alzheimer's: The neuroprotective effects of DHA may help alleviate memory loss and enhance memory-related learning.
- Dyslexia: DHA may improve various aspects of dyslexia.
How does It Work For The brain?
DHA is an essential component for normal neural function and is believed to play a crucial role in neuronal membranes. Additionally, DHA supplementation has been shown to contribute to the growth and development of brain tissue, although the exact mechanism is not fully understood.
Attenuation of amyloid beta secretion:
The accumulation of toxic amyloid beta (A-β) plaques in the brain is a well-known cause of memory loss and cognitive deficits. DHA has demonstrated significant effectiveness in reducing the presence of beta-amyloid plaques by:
- Increasing the levels of LR11, a sorting protein.
- Stimulating the production of NPD1, a protein that promotes brain cell survival and suppresses the toxicity of amyloid beta plaques.
DHA has been found to provide neuroprotection in various situations, partly due to its ability to enhance antioxidant capacity. Increased levels of DHA in the brain have been shown to reduce memory errors by suppressing oxidative stress-causing compounds, specifically lipid peroxide and reactive oxygen species.
Dosage And Safety
The recommended dosage of DHA varies depending on age, health condition, and individual needs. For infants, it is commonly supplied in infant formula or as a supplement in a range of 0.2 to 0.5% of total fatty acids. Breastfed infants usually receive an adequate amount of DHA through breast milk.
In adults, there is no established daily recommended intake for DHA. However, many health organizations suggest a daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, ranging from 250 to 500 milligrams. Higher doses may be recommended for specific health conditions, but it is important to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Potential side effects
When consumed orally, DHA is generally considered safe for the majority of individuals. DHA has been safely used for up to 4 years without major concerns. Mild side effects commonly reported are typically associated with stomach and intestinal issues.
However, it is crucial not to exceed a daily intake of 3 grams of DHA or other omega-3 fatty acids, with no more than 2 grams coming from dietary supplements. Taking more than 3 grams of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids per day may pose potential risks.
This excessive intake may affect blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. It is advisable to adhere to recommended dosages and consult a healthcare professional for guidance.
DHA supplements are available in various forms such as capsules, tablets, or soft gels for convenient consumption. These different forms provide options for individuals to choose based on their preferences or specific dietary needs.
DHA supplements can be derived from different sources, including marine (fish oil), plant, or algal sources.
- Marine-based DHA supplements are commonly obtained from fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA. Plant-based DHA supplements are typically derived from sources like flaxseed, chia seeds, or hemp seeds, which contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that can be converted to DHA in the body, although the conversion efficiency may vary.
- Algal-based DHA supplements are derived from microalgae, which naturally produce DHA. These algal sources offer a vegetarian and sustainable option for individuals who prefer to avoid animal-derived products.
Many people have reported positive experiences with DHA as a nootropic supplement. Some users have reported improved memory, focus, and mental clarity,
For example, one user said, “received a traumatic closed head injury. Many years approximately 10 years went by when I couldn't remember much at all. I am lactose intolerant and began drinking a nonmilk product with DHA in it. I really liked it. I noticed a big improvement in memory and cognitive function”.
Another user said, “I give my 10 yr old son 2 multivitamin gummies with 100mg of DHA and one 400mg DHA supplement each day. It has greatly increased his ability to focus on tasks and short-term memory. school work has improved as well as home functioning”.
Comparison With Other Nootropics
DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, supports brain health and cognitive function as a “structural component of neuronal membranes”. In comparison:
- Caffeine improves alertness and focus by blocking adenosine receptors.
- L-theanine promotes relaxation and focus without drowsiness.
- Bacopa Monnieri enhances memory and cognitive function through neurotransmitter modulation.
- Piracetam enhances memory, learning, and concentration by improving neurotransmission and blood flow.
- Each nootropic works through different mechanisms, while DHA primarily contributes to brain health through its structural role and potential neuroprotective effects.
Health Benefits Of Using DHA
Improves Heart Health
Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA, has been shown to improve heart health by reducing cardiovascular stress markers. Evidence suggests that adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, can decrease the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the main forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Although they are often found together, they have differing effects. Several studies have indicated that DHA is more effective than EPA in protecting heart health.
DHA reduces inflammation in the body, which is relevant to “age-related chronic diseases”. In a study, DHA intake showed a 28% decrease in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Since inflammation is connected to cardiovascular disease, reducing inflammation levels may potentially decrease the risk of coronary events.
“Omega-3 fatty acids” may reduce glaucoma risk by lowering internal eye pressure, preserving vision, and preventing eye discomfort .
While there is already a significant body of research supporting the cognitive-enhancing benefits of DHA, there is still much to be learned about this plant and its potential uses. Future research may explore the effects of DHA on other aspects of health and wellness, as well as potential long-term effects and optimal dosages.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a crucial omega-3 fatty acid that plays a significant role in promoting brain health, cognitive function, and overall well-being. It serves as a fundamental component of neuronal membranes and contributes to structural development, making it particularly important during the early stages of life, including pregnancy. Moreover, DHA may play a role in maintaining eye health, potentially reducing the risk of conditions like glaucoma.
Incorporating DHA-rich foods or supplements into the diet can be an effective strategy to support these health benefits. However, as with any dietary consideration, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate intake for individual needs.
- Qui-Lan Ma, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid Increases SorLA/LR11, a Sorting Protein with Reduced Expression in Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): Relevance to AD Prevention. J Neurosci. 2007 Dec 26; 27(52):14299-307.
- Lukiw WJ, et al. A role for docosahexaenoic acid–derived neuroprotectin D1 in neural cell survival and Alzheimer disease. J Clin Invest. 2005 Oct 1;115(10):2774-83.
- Hong SH, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid confers enduring neuroprotection in experimental stroke. J Neurol Sci. 2014 Mar 15;338(1-2):135-41.
- Salem M Jr, et al. Mechanisms of action of docosahexaenoic acid in the nervous system. Lipids. 2001 Sep;36(9):945-59.
- Jin M, et al. Dietary DHA/EPA ratio affected tissue fatty acid profiles, antioxidant capacity, hematological characteristics, and expression of lipid-related genes but not growth in juvenile black seabream (Acanthopagrus schlegelii). PLoS One. 2017 Apr 21;12(4):e0176216.
- Hashimoto M, et al. Chronic administration of docosahexaenoic acid ameliorates the impairment of spatial cognition learning ability in amyloid beta-infused rats. J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):549-55.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Effects of purified eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids on glycemic control, blood pressure, and serum lipids in type 2 diabetic patients with treated hypertension.”
- BMJ: "Low-grade inflammation and coronary heart disease: prospective study and updated meta-analyses."
- Translational Vision Science and Technology: “Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults.”