Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that you can only get from dietary sources or supplements. DHA is most commonly found in fish oil supplements in combination with eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, another omega-3 fatty acid. DHA plays many important roles, particularly in brain and cardiovascular health. DHA also has some anti-inflammatory effects than can benefit some chronic health conditions.
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Improve Cardiovascular Health
The most studied uses of DHA focus on the cardiovascular system and heart health. The United States Department of Agriculture describes many of the potential heart-healthy benefits of supplementing with fatty acids from fish oils such as DHA. DHA can help to lower dangerous LDL cholesterol while increasing healthy HDL cholesterol levels. Fish oil also lowers your overall risk of death from a cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack. According to a report by "Science Daily," people with heart disease are typically advised by physicians to take at least 4,000 mg of DHA and EPA each day. As two servings of fish contain only about 500 mg of DHA and EPA, fish oil supplements may be required to achieve optimal DHA and EPA levels.
Enhance Fetal and Infant Brain Development
DHA plays an important role in adult brain function, but is even more critical to the developing brain. As fish may contain toxins, such as mercury, some pregnant women choose to ramp up their DHA levels during pregnancy through DHA supplements. DHA is also commonly added to some baby formulas to ensure that infants receive its benefits. The American Pregnancy Association explains that DHA helps to strengthen neurons and increase neural functions in babies. While many small observational studies have shown that a pregnant mother’s DHA supplementation can benefit the intelligence of her baby, one larger study described by the "New York Times" shows that DHA supplementation on its own does not generally increase a baby’s cognitive function.
Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus
Fish oil and DHA potentially have anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit a number of chronic autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that DHA supplements can reduce some of the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. However, DHA will not prevent the onset of arthritis. DHA can also reduce joint pain and inflammation associated with lupus, another chronic inflammatory condition.
Fish oil and DHA supplements rarely have side effects and have the potential to benefit many different aspects of health and well being. If you are nursing or pregnant, or if you are at risk for heart disease, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you should consider taking DHA supplements, and if so, exactly how much to take. If you take fish oil pills as a source of DHA, be sure to do your homework and choose a reputable brand of fish oil that comes from the freshest possible fish source and is free of toxins such as mercury and PCBs.