General Health

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential types of fats that the human body depends on. These fatty acids play several roles in the maintenance of the body, including several functions.

Different types of omega-3 fatty acids have been identified. APA, or alpha-linolenic acid, is considered the most common type of these fatty acids. It is found in several plant sources but does not seem to have a significant effect as other forms of fatty acids.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is really the opposite. This one has a significant number of roles to play in the body1. Unfortunately, it is not as commonly found as other types of omega-3 fatty acids. Some APA and EPA are converted to DHA but in small concentrations.

Taking DHA-specific supplements or eating more fatty fish can help to increase the intake of DHA. We look at the benefits of DHA supplements and why it is so vital that people ensure they gain enough of these fatty acids.

The Top 10 Health Benefits Of DHA

DHA is among the most essential nutrients that men and women need to consume. The fatty acid is present in the membranes of all cells within the body. Adequate consumption of DHA may help to improve health.

The fatty acid could also potentially reduce the risk of certain health conditions. Some evidence supports the use of DHA in the treatment of certain diseases too.

Below, we consider ten important health benefits of DHA. Individuals need to ensure they understand why DHA is such an important daily nutrient.

There are several ways to obtain DHA, through both fatty fish sources and with the use of certain omega-3 supplements. Fish-based sources of DHA are often advised as they contain added benefits.

1) Heart Disease

Recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids will often first describe the benefits of these nutrients for the heart. All types of these fatty acids seem to play important roles in the well-being of the cardiovascular system. This, of course, includes the heart.

Many studies focus on the heart-related benefits of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids. Many markers associated with heart health can be effectively improved with the increase in DHA intake.

One study2 showed a significant improvement in the omega-3 index with the use of DHA. A total of 154 participants were involved in the study. Participants were provided with a daily DHA supplement. The daily serving size consists of 2.8 grams of DHA. All participants were asked to take the supplements over a period of 10 weeks.

By the end of the 10-week study, there was an average increase of 5.6% in the omega-3 index among participants. A higher omega-3 index is linked to a lower risk of sudden death from heart-related conditions.

When using DHA for heart health, it would be a good idea to combine it with EPA. The combination has been researched and proven to work together effectively. One study3 compared the combined effects on the individual impact of both fatty acid types. The researchers found combined EPA and DHA seems to be better at preventing heart disease.

2) Fights Inflammation

Inflammation is a common concern in the general population. The presence of inflammation has been linked to heart disease, as well as many other serious chronic diseases. An increase in DHA intake might also potentially help to reduce inflammation in a person’s body.

One study4 shows that increasing DHA helps to balance omega-6 fatty acids. These are fatty acids that may yield pro-inflammatory effects in the body. By balancing these fatty acids, inflammation is already effectively reduced.

DHA may also be helpful in people with inflammatory conditions. One study5 showed that DHA could reduce inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

An average of 28% decreased swelling in joints. A 2.1-gram dose of DHA was provided to patients daily. The study lasted for a period of 10 weeks. 38 people participated in the study.

3) May Reduce Risk Of Cancer

Some evidence suggests that DHA may also help to reduce a person’s risk of some cancers. Not all cancers may benefit from DHA and omega-3 fatty acids. There are, however, quite a few that should be taken into account here.

The anti-inflammatory effects of DHA are what comes to mind here. Cancer has a strong link to inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effects of this particular fatty acid may help to reduce the risk of cancers. Furthermore, some studies suggest that DHA could also help to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.

There is also some evidence that the use of DHA could be beneficial for patients undergoing chemotherapy. It seems like chemotherapy is more effective when a person is taking a DHA supplement. The drugs may be able to fight off the invading cancer cells faster and more effectively in the presence of DHA.

4) Lowers Blood Pressure

It is not only the heart that benefits from DHA. It seems like DHA benefits the entire cardiovascular system. This includes blood circulation. People with hypertension may also be able to benefit from the use of DHA supplements.

One study6 showed that DHA should preferably be combined with EPA for hypertensive patients. The study proves that both of these have their own effects on blood pressure. Combined, they can bring down both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

In this review, 20 previous studies were analyzed. Diastolic blood pressure was reduced with an average of about 3.1 mmHg. This effect was linked to the use of DHA specifically. An average reduction of 3.8 mmHg in systolic blood pressure was noted too. This effect as instead associated with the EPA omega-3 fatty acid.

5) Supports Men’s Reproductive Health

Men are often concerned with their sexual health. This refers to both their performance during sexual intercourse, as well as their ability to reproduce. When reproductive health is adversely affected, a man’s fertility is likely to suffer.

This can make it hard for a man to get a woman pregnant. When DHA is increased, a man’s reproductive health could potentially be improved.

Several studies support the use of DHA in improving male fertility. In fact, one study shows that dietary fat plays a significant role in sperm health. The study7 points out that about half of infertile men have a problem with their dietary fat intake.

Increasing DHA intake may help to provide an improvement in sperm motility. The vitality of sperm could also potentially increase. Both of these factors may help to improve fertility. This can increase the chances of successful conception in a man who had previously experienced failed attempts.

6) May Protect Mental Health

We rely on mental health every single day. Concentration and memory are crucial in both our professional and personal lives. Unfortunately, many factors in our daily lives adversely affect the brain. These factors can also harm mental health.

Some studies have linked an increase in DHA levels to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease could also be slowed in patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. A higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, with a focus on DHA, also reduces the risk of mental decline. This means a lower risk of dementia in the elderly too.

DHA may also help improve serotonin. This could potentially improve mood. The risk of depression is also potentially reduced with an increased intake of DHA. This is primarily due to a reduction in inflammation in the brain.

7) Lowers Cholesterol Levels

There are two types of cholesterol. One is “good,” and the other is “bad.” LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is the bad kind of cholesterol. On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is considered a beneficial type of fat content in the body.

This cholesterol is also referred to as high-density lipoprotein.
Some studies show DHA may also interact with cholesterol levels. In addition to cholesterol, this fatty acid may also help to balance triglyceride levels in the human body.

One study3 found a 13.3% decrease in triglyceride levels among people who took DHA supplements. There was also an average 7.6% increase in HDL cholesterol. This means DHA could provide an improvement in the overall balance of cholesterol. When HDL cholesterol increases, bad cholesterol levels will also effectively reduce.

The reduction in cholesterol helps to lower the risk of heart disease. It also makes a person less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

8) Pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in a woman’s health –,, especially during pregnancy. There are many reasons why complications can develop while a woman is pregnant. One of these might be linked to a deficiency in appropriate omega-3 fatty acids.

These fatty acids play a critical role in allowing the unborn child to develop normally. It also helps to keep the woman’s systems functioning normally during the period of pregnancy.

One factor that we want to take note of here is preterm births. When a baby is born too early, their risk of suffering from certain health conditions is greatly increased. In one study8, the use of a daily DHA supplemented to reduce the risk of pregnant women having a preterm birth by 40%. The same study found a 64% reduction in the risk among Australian women.

9) Promotes Eye Health

DHA is present in high concentrations in the retinas of the eyes. This means the eyes rely heavily on the presence of DHA to remain healthy and functional. Some research also suggests that increased DHA intake could be helpful for certain eye-related conditions.

The use of DHA could potentially assist in the treatment of dry eyes. Furthermore, diabetic eye disease may also improve with the use of DHA supplementation. The disease is also known as retinopathy.

Age-related macular degeneration could potentially also be slowed when there is an increase in DHA supplementation. Studies on this subject are still relatively limited. At the moment, however, it is known that DHA plays a critical role in eye health. The effects of DHA has been compared to that of corticosteroid eye drops in patients with eye-related discomfort.

10) Supports Muscle Recovery After Exercise

Exercise is something that everyone needs to do. While a run around the track or a jog up the road is not likely to do much damage to muscles, intense training sessions are different.

When heavyweights are lifted, muscle fibers tear. This means muscle tissue has to enter a recovery phase. This allows muscle mass to grow and the tissue to recover effectively.

It seems like the use of DHA supplements may be helpful in people who regularly participate in these heavy workout sessions. Up to three grams of DHA can be used for this purpose. The DHA supplement helps to reduce muscle soreness following an intense workout session. Faster muscle recovery may also be expected when DHA intake is increased.

Conclusion

DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. The body is not able to produce this particular type of fatty acid. People need to consume food that contains DHA. Some supplements contain DHA.

Increasing the consumption of DHA may hold several potential health benefits. We considered 10 of the most critical advantages of DHA in this post. Both men and women need to realize how they can take advantage of food and supplements with this fatty acid.

Sources

  1. Advances in Nutrition. (2016) Docosahexaenoic Acid. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5105042/
  2. Journal of Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. (2017) Supplementation with high-dose docosahexaenoic acid increases the Omega-3 Index more than high-dose eicosapentaenoic acid. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28515020
  3. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2016) A randomized, crossover, head-to-head comparison of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation to reduce inflammation markers in men and women: the Comparing EPA to DHA (ComparED) Study. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27281302
  4. Journal of Nutrition Reviews. (2010) Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20500789
  5.  Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2018) Docosahexaenoic acid in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized cross-over study with microalgae vs. sunflower oil. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28302406
  6. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. (2019) Effects of EPA and DHA on blood pressure and inflammatory factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29993265
  7. Journal of Andrology. (2015) Dietary fatty acids affect semen quality: a review. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25951427
  8. Journal of Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. (2016) Predicting the effect of maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation to reduce early preterm birth in Australia and the United States using results of within country randomized controlled trials. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27637340

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