Docosahexaenoic acid, better known as DHA, can be quite the mouthful when not whittled down to three letters. Thankfully the world of nutrition loves a good acronym, just as it appreciates an under-the-radar, disease-fighting nutrient.
So what is DHA, and why does it merit an article lauding its benefits? Well, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid, nutrients you get from food that help build and maintain a healthy body. These fatty acids are key to the structure of every cell wall you have and are also an energy source that help keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working the way they should. In short, they’re life-savers.
The Three Omegas
As hidden away in the name, there are three types of these omega-3s: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is the most common and can be found in rich supply in a lot of seeds (especially flaxseed and pumpkin seeds), although it needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before it can be used by your body for something other than energy.
EPA is used by your body to produce signalling molecules called eicosanoids, which play numerous physiological roles and reduce inflammation. They’re very helpful, but perhaps not as important as the star of our show, DHA.
The Effect Of DHA On Your Brain And Eye Health
An important structural component of your skin and the retinas in your eyes, DHA is mostly found in cell membranes, where it makes the membranes and gaps between cells more fluid. This in turn makes it easier for nerve cells to send and receive electrical signals.
Having enough DHA is effectively helping all your nerve cells do their job properly while having too little slows the signals down leading to poor eyesight or altered brain function
DHA is especially vital for brain development in childhood, and as such DHA is an important ingredient in prenatal vitamins. Studies show a deficiency in DHA early on in life has associations with learning disabilities, ADHD, and aggressive hostility, while not getting enough as an adult has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
DHA In Your Diet
Ok, it’s important, we need it, but where should we get it from? Fish is the main source in the general population’s diet, but most of the DHA in fish comes as a result of them consuming microscopic algae invisible to the naked eye. The DHA from this sea-dwelling algae is one of the main sources of the nutrient in supplements like our vegan multivitamin, Multi, and the only way for vegans to get it into their diet (think spirulina and seaweed).
You might also want to consider algal oil (the oil made from algae) tablets over DHA from fish oil, as studies have shown them to be more concentrated in omega-3s, while algae farming requires a lot less land consumption than fish farming thanks to its ability to even grow in infertile soil.
There is no nutrient reference value from the European Food Safety Authority for DHA, however, in a paper on its tolerable upper intake levels, the authority recommends around 250mg a day for European adults when combined with EPA.
What Do The Studies Say?
Besides the aforementioned boosts to your brain and eye health, a number of studies have also linked DHA consumption to a range of other benefits.
Omega-3s, in general, are regularly recommended for heart health, for example, with a 2017 study on 154 obese adults finding daily doses of 2,700 mg of DHA for 10 weeks increased the omega-3 index — a blood marker of omega-3 levels that’s linked to a reduced risk of sudden heart-related death — by 5.6 percent.
And DHA might also just simply have more general anti-inflammatory benefits, with a 10-week study on 38 people with rheumatoid arthritis, finding 2,100 mg of DHA daily decreased the number of swollen joints by 28 percent when compared to the placebo. However, it should be noted that both of these studies show benefits only after extremely high doses, and as such the more widely supported benefits tend to lie with your brain and eye health.
If you’re worried about your nutrient intake then Form’s multivitamin, or Multi as we like to call it, is here to help. Multi covers your daily vitamin and mineral requirements and more, with vegan DHA and Choline for brain health, and Vitamin D3 from Vita-algae D® for immunity, Multi is more than a multivitamin; it’s your daily nutrient peace of mind.