Everything You Should Know About DHA Supplements
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA for short, is naturally found in our body and primarily in our brain, heart, and eyes. But taking this supplement can help in the development of the cells in the brain, heart, and eyes to ensure that they develop and remain in good working condition through all the stages of a person’s life.
What is DHA?
It is an Omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) considered to be one of the brain’s major building blocks critical for the brain’s optimal health and function. Based on recent research, it provides benefits to boost the brain function not only of infants but of ageing adults as well. It can be found in cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, fish oil supplements (with eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA), seaweed (vegetarian source) and in supplements which can be taken daily.
During the first six months of an infant’s life, he will need this in order for his brain, nervous system, and eyes to develop optimally. Because this fatty acid is present in breast milk, some companies add this to their infant formulas. Because the body makes only small amounts of it naturally, a person should take a supplement to fill in any nutritional gaps as a result of insufficient supply.
What Does It Do?
This fatty acid is what we might call brain nutrition because it is crucial to the brain as calcium is to the bones. An infant’s brain and eye development and their respective functions, in fact, depend on the fatty acid which goes straight to a person’s tissues to keep these functioning in good condition. It is one of the body’s “good fats,” the reason why it is an essential supplement prescribed for pregnancy.
The brain has 97% of Omega-3 EFAs while the structural fats in the brain’s gray matter is 30% DHA, two factors as to why it has a crucial role in the following areas:
- Development as well as function of the brain and the nervous system.
- Infantile mental development.
- Mental function support of both children and adults throughout their lives.
- Mood and behavioural disorders which affect children and adults.
DHA is used to work on the following conditions:
- General infant development: is important in the growth, visual function, and central nervous system development in infants.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: fish oil that contains it helps reduce the inflammation that accompanies inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Take note, however, that taking this does not prevent the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): some studies have shown that fish oil may reduce symptoms associated with ADHD.
- Heart health: fish oil can help lower risks for the development of heart disease, lower triglyceride as well as blood pressure levels, reduce the risks for blood clots, and improve artery health by decreasing the formation of arterial plaque that narrows the arteries and causes not only heart disease but heart-related conditions as well.
- Menstrual pain: this supplement may help reduce menstrual cramps and the accompanying pain when ingested regularly, meaning even when not menstruating.
- Reynaud Sydrome: fish oil in high doses reduces the sensitivity to the cold felt in the toes and fingers of those who have Reynaud Syndrome, a rare medical condition in a person’s blood vessels narrow when he/she is stressed or cold, disabling blood flow to reach the skin’s surface and making skin throb, tingle or turn red. This blood flow stoppage can cause tissue death or sores.
Because it is an important anti-inflammatory agent, it makes sense to take supplements to prevent inflammation to occur in our bodies. A white blood cell type known as macrophage uses DHA for the production of recently-discovered anti-inflammatory lipids called maresins to fight inflammation. More importantly,these brain supplements can trigger production of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF.
DHA kickstarts the activity of the BDNF for binding to receptors located in synapses between the brain’s neurons to increase the brain’s voltage and improve its signal strength. BDNF activates the genes inside cells to increase BDNF production as well as other essential proteins such as the neurotransmitter serotonin which is vital for a person’s self-esteem, improvement of memory, and learning development.
Dubbed as a “master” among molecules, BDNF, which is actually a protein, has been referred to as the brain’s “miracle-gro” by Harvard University psychiatrist and author Dr. John J. Ratey. The author of “Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” Ratey has said that BDNF is “a crucial biological link” between our emotions, movements, and thoughts.
How Should I Use It to Achieve Maximum Results?
Fish oil supplements are recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women who may be at risk for acquiring heart disease like hypertension. Still, if you fall into either category, consult with a doctor as to how much you are allowed to consume. If you regularly take fish oil supplements, choose a brand that is reputable and uses fresh fish sources that are free of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins.
Fish oil supplements vary in quality and amounts of ingredients. When choosing one to buy look out for the percentage of fish oil within the product and the amounts of mercury it contains.
WHC UnoCardio 1000 is the highest quality supplement we have found. Within the total fish oil content, over 80% accounts for EPA and DHA, which is a very high amount. It also has a low amount of mercury.
For the best value fish oil supplement try The Vitamin Shoppe Omega 3 Fish Oil. This contains over the average amounts of EPA and DHA, low mercury content and is great value for money.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended the consumption of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, lake trout, albacore tuna, and herring twice a week. If, however, you are unable to have any of these, it is best to take DHA supplements that contain Omega-3 EFAs which are found in fish oil. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for DHA from the World Health Organization (WHO) is from 0.3 to 0.5 grams.
The World Health Organization recommends a daily EPA and DHA intake of 0.3-0.5 grams and a daily ALA intake of 0.8-1.1 grams. To help you know how to maximize the benefits you can obtain from DHA, the following is a list of the RDA for fish oil supplements that contain DHA for treating specific medical conditions (consult with a doctor first before taking any supplement):
- Aggressive behavior: between 1.5 and 1.8 grams.
- Infant allergies: 1.1 grams.
- Anxiety attacks: three grams of Omega-3 EFAs with DHA at 100mg.
- Stiff arteries: between 360 and 1800mg depending on how stiff the arteries have become.
- Asthma: between 1.8 and 2.2 grams.
- Bipolar disorder: 3.4 grams.
- Athletic performance improvement: 2.2 grams.
- Weight loss in people with existing illnesses: 3.2 grams.
- Cancer treatment: between 0.92 and 1.0 grams or between 2.0 and 2.2 grams depending on the type and stage of cancer.
- Cancer prevention: 3.6 grams.
- Abnormal rhythms of the heart: 0.335 grams.
- Reduction of heart disease risk: 100mg.
- Improvement of brain function: between 0.25 and 0.68 grams.
- Treatment of coronary heart disease: between 0.15 and 0.36 grams.
- Crohn’s disease: between 0.6 and 1.8 grams.
- Dementia: between 700 and 1,940mg.
- Depression: 200mg.
- Eczema: 1.3 grams.
- To lower triglyceride levels: between 0.7 and 3.72 grams.
- IgA nephropathy: between 1.47 and 2.94 grams.
- For improvement of the appetite: 1.7 grams.
- Infantile development: between 790 and 920mg.
- Infantile rain and vision development: between 200 and 2,000mg.
There is significant evidence that taking fish oil capsules which contain DHA has several pros including:
- Lowers levels of triglycerides.
- Prevents hardening of arteries.
- Decreases the risk of acquiring vision impairment.
- Reduces the risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack.
- Protection against miscarriage.
- Reduces pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
- Protection against age-related macular degeneration.
There seems to be only two side effects of taking fish oil supplements that contain DHA: the unpleasant aftertaste and burps which smell of fish. Other cons/side effects which some people have experienced included:
- Mild diarrhea.
- Bad breath.
Take note that high doses of DHA pills could increase some risk levels of bleeding as it can keep the blood from clotting. High doses of it could also impair immunity that can lead to increased susceptibility to different types of infections. And while low levels can protect from heart attacks and strokes, higher doses could increase the risks of the same conditions.
The cost of a bottle of supplemental DHA vitamins varies from one manufacturer to another. There are several factors, however, that can help you determine as to whether or not the price of a particular supplement is commensurate to its price. A top rate quality supplement will have all of these characteristics: freshness, nutritional content, potency, bio-availability, and sustainability.
Summary: Is It for Me?
From all indications, DHA is good for almost everybody, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. There are only a few individuals, actually, with specific medical conditions that may have higher risks of adverse interactions with DHA.
- Taking blood pressure medications: DHA could lower the levels of blood pressure from making the potency of blood pressure medications even stronger.
- Higher doses of DHA: as mentioned previously, could keep blood from clotting and lengthen bleeding time.
- Diabetic medications: these may become more potent since DHA can lower the levels of blood sugar.
- Aspirin: the combination of DHA and aspirin prescribed to those who have existing heart conditions may increase a person’s risk for bleeding profusely.
Direct consumption of a DHA supplement is the best way to obtain its benefits. While a lot of people think flaxseed oil is a good alternative of DHA, it really isn’t because flaxseed oil is a source of ALA, better known as alpa-linolenic acid, which is DHA’s precursor. For vegetarians, seaweed is the best alternative in the form of microalgae supplements which also contain high amounts of DHA.