Health Benefits of DHA

“Good” and “bad” fats have been heavily scrutinized in recent years. The current scientific consensus is that certain fats, in particular omega-3 fatty acids, are particularly good for most people’s health. Docosahexaenoic Acid, also known as DHA, is one of the most important omega-3 fatty acids that you can consume.

DHA is mostly found in fatty fish, like other omega-3 fatty acids. This may be part of why the Mediterranean diet has been linked to healthier hearts. From keeping your heart healthier to reducing inflammation, eating enough DHA can be an important part of a healthy diet for most people.

Health Benefits

DHA can provide important health benefits for many people. For example, DHA may help people with ADHD focus on tasks more easily and with fewer distractions. Many people with ADHD have been tested to have lower blood levels of DHA than people without ADHD. Supplementing your diet with DHA can reduce symptoms of ADHD and help you focus more easily.

DHA has also been linked to a lower risk of early preterm births by anywhere from 40% to 64%. People who are pregnant are recommended to consume more DHA to avoid deficiencies and potential early preterm births.

In addition, DHA can provide other health benefits like:

Heart Health

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve heart health by reducing several markers of cardiovascular stress. Studies show that regularly consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids like DHA can lower the risk of cardiovascular death

Furthermore, there are several forms of omega-3 fatty acids, but the two main forms are DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These two forms are often found together, but they are not equal. Several studies have pointed to DHA as being a more effective protector of heart health than EPA. 

Reduced Inflammation

DHA has also been linked to lower inflammation levels in the body. Inflammation is connected to a number of age-related chronic diseases. In one study, consuming DHA helped reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by 28%. Inflammation is also linked to heart disease, so reduced inflammation may also lower your risk of coronary events.

Eye Health

Omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce your risk of glaucoma. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help lower internal eye pressure, which is an indicator of glaucoma. This can help save your vision and prevent eye discomfort.

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Health Risks

DHA is largely safe to consume. However, like many foods, it is possible to consume too much. 

Hypotension

DHA Is linked to lower blood pressure, which is in many cases good for health. In people with normal to low blood pressure on average, though, it may be possible for DHA to lower blood pressure too far and lead to hypotension.

Hyperglycemia

People with type 2 diabetes should also watch their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies have pointed to DHA and EPA as factors for raising blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. This is not necessarily dangerous, but people with diabetes should pay attention to ensure that they don’t accidentally cause a glucose spike.

Amounts and Dosage

DHA can be consumed either as a supplement or in foods. Dietary sources of DHA include: 

  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring
  • Nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseed
  • Nut and plant oils like flaxseed oil and canola oil
  • Many types of fortified foods, including some brands of soy beverages, milk, and yogurt

The American Heart Association recommends that people eat at least two servings (6-8 ounces) of fish per week, in part because of the meat’s DHA levels. In general, it’s recommended for people with heart disease or high triglycerides to consume between 1 and 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 16, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

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.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”

Clinical Nutrition: “Docosahexaenoic acid in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized cross-over study with microalgae vs. sunflower oil.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Association of blood levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids with coronary calcification and calcium density in Japanese men.”

Journal of Nutrition: “Low-dose docosahexaenoic acid lowers diastolic blood pressure in middle-aged men and women.”

Mayo Clinic: “Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan.”

Molecular Psychiatry: “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of genetic, pharmacogenetic and biochemical studies.”

National Institutes of Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”

Nutrients: “n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Metabolic Syndrome Risk: A Meta-Analysis.”

Nutrients: “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake of Pregnant Women and Women of Childbearing Age in the United States: Potential for Deficiency?”

Translational Vision Science and Technology: “Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults.”

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