DHA is commonly used for high levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). It is also used for boosting memory and thinking skills, for aiding infant and child development, for certain eye disorders, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Don't confuse DHA with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). They are both in fish oil, but they are not the same. DHA can be converted into EPA in the body in very small amounts. See separate listings for algal oil, cod liver oil, fish oil, EPA, and krill oil.
How does it work ?
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Possibly Effective for
- High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). Research shows that taking 1.25 to 4 grams of DHA daily can lower triglyceride levels in people with high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels. It might also improve cholesterol levels in people with at least one risk factor for heart disease. But DHA doesn't seem to lower total cholesterol in people with high cholesterol. It also doesn't seem to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol. DHA might increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol. But this effect might not be clinically significant. DHA does not seem to improve cholesterol in children with high cholesterol levels.
Possibly Ineffective for
- Decline in memory and thinking skills that occurs normally with age. Although a higher intake of dietary DHA has been associated with a reduced risk of mental decline, taking a DHA supplement does not appear to have a benefit. Most research shows that taking DHA alone or with other ingredients does not improve memory, forgetfulness, or learning ability in people with age-related memory changes. However, some research shows that taking DHA might improve memory of events and visual and spatial learning in people with age-related mental decline.
- Alzheimer disease. While people who get more DHA from their diet might have a lower risk of Alzheimer disease, taking DHA supplements doesn't seem to slow progression of the disease.
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many children with ADHD have low levels of DHA in their blood. However, taking DHA does not seem to improve ADHD symptoms, although some early research shows that DHA might help children with ADHD become less aggressive, handle their emotions better, and get along better with others.
- A lung disease that affects newborns (bronchopulmonary dysplasia). Research shows that giving DHA to preterm infants or to breast-feeding mothers doesn't reduce the infant's risk for this lung disease. In fact, DHA might increase the risk for this disease in some infants.
- Memory and thinking skills (cognitive function). Research suggests that taking DHA does not improve mental performance in healthy children, young women, or healthy adults. Also, taking DHA along with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) does not improve mental function. One study shows that taking DHA can improve reading scores in children below the 20th percentile for reading. But it doesn't seem to improve reading scores in other children.
- Depression. Taking DHA by mouth does not seem to relieve or prevent depression symptoms in most people. It also doesn't seem to prevent depression from developing in people with hepatitis C who are undergoing a treatment that is linked with depression. But taking DHA may delay the development of depression in these patients. Also, early research suggests that taking DHA along with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) might improve symptoms of depression in elderly people with mild mental impairment.
Insufficient Evidence for
- An eye disease that leads to vision loss in older adults (age-related macular degeneration or AMD). Increased intake of DHA as part of the diet is associated with a lower risk of developing vision loss due to aging. This may be related to the effects of DHA on color, or pigment, in a specific part of the eye, called the macula. However, when DHA is taken along with other vitamins and minerals known to prevent age-related vision loss, DHA does not seem to offer any improvement.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Adding DHA and the fatty acid arachidonic acid to infant formula does not seem to prevent the development of eczema compared to regular formula.
- Prone to allergies and allergic reactions (atopic disease). Giving DHA to pregnant women prone to allergies seems to reduce how often their infants have allergy symptoms, such as phlegm, runny nose, or stuffy nose by the age of 18 months.
- Irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Having higher levels of DHA in fat tissue does not seem to be linked with a lower risk of abnormal heart rhythm. However, research suggests that taking DHA along with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) around the time of heart surgery reduces the risk of having abnormal heart rhythm after surgery.
- Autism. Early research suggests that taking DHA does not improve most symptoms of autism. But it might help with specific symptoms like social withdrawal and communication.
- Bipolar disorder. Early research suggests that taking DHA does not improve memory and thinking skills in people with bipolar disorder.
- Breast cancer. Increased dietary intake of DHA does not seem to be linked with a reduced risk of breast cancer. But taking DHA during chemotherapy treatment might help delay progression of the breast cancer and improve survival.
- Child development. Some research suggests that infants who do not receive DHA from breast milk or formula have delayed mental and visual development compared to those who receive enough DHA. Some researchers reasoned that giving DHA in formula might improve development of infants and children. But when they tested this theory, study results did not agree. The reason for the differences may be due to the way the studies were designed. For now, experts generally recommend breast-feeding instead of formula-feeding. If formula is used, some experts suggest a formula providing at least 0.2% of fats from DHA. Taking DHA during pregnancy does not seem to significantly improve infant or child development.
- Decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age. Early research shows that taking DHA with other ingredients does improve memory or forgetfulness in elderly people with memory loss.
- Heart disease. Some research shows that consuming more DHA in the diet might lower the risk of death in people with heart disease.
- A type of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease). Increased intake of DHA as part of the diet is linked with a lower risk of developing Crohn disease.
- Cystic fibrosis. Early research suggests that taking DHA for up to one year does not improve lung function in people with cystic fibrosis.
- Diseases, such as Alzheimer disease, that interfere with thinking (dementia). People who get more DHA from their diet might have a lower risk of developing dementia.
- A motor skill disorder marked by clumsiness (developmental coordination disorder or DCD). Taking DHA by mouth together with evening primrose oil, thyme oil, and vitamin E seems to improve movement in children with this condition.
- Diabetes. Taking DHA by mouth does not seem to lower blood sugar or cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. But it might decrease levels of fats called triglycerides.
- Diarrhea. Early research shows that feeding infants formula with added DHA and the fatty acid arachidonic acid helps prevent the development of serious diarrhea compared to giving regular formula.
- A learning disorder marked by difficulty reading (dyslexia). Taking DHA by mouth seems to improve night vision in children with dyslexia.
- High blood pressure. Early research shows that consuming DHA might reduce blood pressure by a small amount in people with at least one risk factor for heart disease. But it's unclear if DHA reduces blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Research also shows that when a pregnant mother takes DHA, it might lower the child's blood pressure if he/she becomes overweight or obese by the age of 5. It's unclear if this lower blood pressure lasts until adulthood.
- Infection of the lower airways. Some early research shows that giving full-term infants formula with added DHA and the fatty acid arachidonic acid reduces the risk of lower airway infections such as bronchitis and whooping cough. But other research shows that DHA-supplemented formula might not prevent lower airway infections in preterm infants.
- Conditions in a man that prevent him from getting a woman pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (male infertility). Some research suggests that taking DHA might help sperm move better in men with infertility. But it's still unknown if these men are better able to get a woman pregnant.
- A serious intestinal disease in premature infants (necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC). Early research suggests that taking DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent NEC in preterm infants.
- Build up of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD). Early research suggests that taking DHA for up to 2 years reduces the risk of severe fat accumulation in the liver in children with NAFLD.
- Obesity. Early research shows that taking DHA reduces the dietary intake of carbohydrate and fat in overweight or obese women. But it does not seem to help with weight reduction in these people.
- Ear infection (otitis media). Early research suggests that feeding infants formula with added DHA and the fatty acid arachidonic acid does not seem to prevent the development of ear infections compared to feeding regular formula.
- An inherited disorder that increases levels of phenylalanine in the blood (phenylketonuria or PKU). Children with PKU consume very low amounts of DHA. Some research shows that taking DHA helps to increase the amount of DHA in the blood of children with PKU. But it doesn't seem to help with memory or thinking skills.
- Pain after surgery. Early research shows that DHA given by mouth to infants undergoing heart surgery might reduce the amount of pain medications needed after surgery.
- Prostate cancer. Results of two population studies show that higher dietary intake of DHA is linked with a reduced risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer and advanced prostate cancer. However, analyses of several population studies show that higher intake of DHA is linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
- Re-narrowing of a blood vessel after stent placement or angioplasty (restenosis). People who start taking statin drugs after stent placement seem to have lower DHA levels. These low DHA levels may increase the chance for restenosis. Some researchers think that taking DHA after starting a statin might help prevent restenosis in people who just had a stent placed. But this has not been confirmed in clinical studies.
- An inherited eye condition that causes poor night vision and loss of side vision (retinitis pigmentosa). Research on the effects of DHA in people with retinitis pigmentosa is inconsistent. Some research shows that taking DHA for 4 years does not improve eye function in people with retinitis pigmentosa who are also taking vitamin A. But other research shows that taking DHA for 4 years improves eye function in some people with this condition, although visual function does not seem to improve.
- An eye disorder in premature infants that can lead to blindness (retinopathy of prematurity). Early research suggests that taking DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent retinopathy of prematurity in preterm infants.
- Blood infection (sepsis). Early research suggests that taking DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent sepsis in preterm infants.
- An inherited disease that leads to uncoordinated walk and poor hand-eye coordination (spinocerebellar ataxia or SCA). Early research shows that taking DHA daily for 4 months might reduce symptoms and improve brain imaging related to spinocerebellar ataxia.
- Stroke. Higher blood levels of DHA are linked with a reduced risk of stroke.
- Dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain (vascular dementia). Early research shows that taking DHA for one year might improve symptoms of this form of dementia.
- A condition that slowly leads to kidney disease (IgA nephropathy).
- A type of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis).
- An autoimmune disease that causes widespread swelling (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE).
- A rare condition that causes swelling (inflammation) of the blood vessels (Behcet disease).
- Hay fever.
- Painful response to cold especially in the fingers and toes (Raynaud syndrome).
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
- Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis).
- Swelling (inflammation) of the kidneys in people with lupus.
- Vision problems in people with diabetes (diabetic retinopathy).
- Other conditions.
When given by IV: DHA is POSSIBLY SAFE when injected by IV along with the fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) for a short period of time. DHA plus EPA has been safely given by IV for up to 14 days.
Special Precautions and Warnings
Infants and children: DHA is LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately. DHA is a component of some infant formula. Also, DHA has been safely given to children 7 years and older at doses of 30 mg/kg per day for up to 4 years. It has also been safely given to children 4 years and older at doses of 0.4-1 gram per day for up to 1 year. But DHA is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used in preterm infants born less than 29 weeks gestational age. it might worsen breathing in preterm infants who already have difficulty breathing.
Diabetes: DHA seems to increase blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs) interacts with DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID (DHA)
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is often combined with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA might slow blood clotting. Taking DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs) interacts with DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID (DHA)
DHA can decrease blood pressure. Taking DHA along with medications for high blood pressure might cause you blood pressure to go too low.
Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.
Be cautious with this combination
- General: DHA is usually administered with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) as fish oil. A wide range of doses have been used. A typical dose is 5 grams of fish oil containing 169-563 mg of EPA and 72-312 mg of DHA. Experts also recommend increasing your daily dietary intake of cold-water fish, including mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, and salmon.
- High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia): DHA 0.8 to 4 grams daily for 6-8 weeks has been used. Also, DHA-enriched canola oil, taken daily for 4 weeks, has been used.
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Lloyd-Still, J. D., Powers, C. A., Hoffman, D. R., Boyd-Trull, K., Lester, L. A., Benisek, D. C., and Arterburn, L. M. Bioavailability and safety of a high dose of docosahexaenoic acid triacylglycerol of algal origin in cystic fibrosis patients: a randomized, controlled study. Nutrition 2006;22(1):36-46. View abstract.
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Maki, K. C., Van Elswyk, M. E., McCarthy, D., Hess, S. P., Veith, P. E., Bell, M., Subbaiah, P., and Davidson, M. H. Lipid responses to a dietary docosahexaenoic acid supplement in men and women with below average levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol. J Am Coll Nutr 2005;24(3):189-199. View abstract.
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McNamara, R. K., Able, J., Jandacek, R., Rider, T., Tso, P., Eliassen, J. C., Alfieri, D., Weber, W., Jarvis, K., DelBello, M. P., Strakowski, S. M., and Adler, C. M. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases prefrontal cortex activation during sustained attention in healthy boys: a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging, functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91(4):1060-1067. View abstract.
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