Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a component of the membranes that make up the central nervous system in particular. The last trimester of pregnancy is when it accumulates in the fetal brain the most, and it continues to do so at extremely high rates through the end of the second year of life. The best conditions for brain development may be facilitated by DHA consumption because endogenous DHA generation appears to be comparatively modest.
We conducted a narrative review of the scientific literature on the relationships between DHA levels and brain growth and function throughout the course of the lifespan. The link between DHA and brain function for neuronal cell proliferation and differentiation as well as in relation to neuronal signaling is supported by data from cell and animal research.
The majority of the information from human studies relates to DHA’s role in the development of optimal visual acuity. A growing body of evidence suggests that DHA may have impacts on the developing brain, and more recent research suggests that these effects may rely on the gender and genotype of the genes responsible for the endogenous synthesis of DHA.
While DHA levels may have an impact on early development, potential consequences are also becoming more widely acknowledged in childhood and adulthood. This suggests that DHA may play a role in cognitive decline and be connected to serious psychiatric problems.
WHAT IS DHA EXACTLY?
For the growth and functional development of the baby’s brain, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is crucial. DHA is also necessary for adults’ brains to continue functioning normally. In contrast to DHA deficiency, which is linked to learning deficits, diets rich in DHA enhance learning capacity.
DHA is absorbed by the brain more readily than other fatty acids. Contrary to popular belief, the brain has a far higher rate of DHA turnover. When DHA is present in the newborn formula, the visual acuity of healthy, full-term babies is improved.
Many infants have been fed formula diets deficient in DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids for the past 50 years. Fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, phenylketonuria, unipolar depression, aggressive hostility, and adrenoleukodystrophy are all linked to DHA deficiency.
DHA levels in the brain are known to decrease with age and are linked to the start of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. Cardiovascular disease is the main killer in western countries.
The fats that we need for good health but that our body cannot produce on its own must come from diet or supplements. The brain contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of all the necessary fatty acids.
They serve as the preferred building blocks for the membranes of nerve cells and brain cells. The brain will use whatever fats are available if omega-3s aren’t there, but this results in less-than-optimal brain cells.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) are the three main types of omega-3s, with DHA unquestionably being the most significant for the brain.
WHY IS DHA IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN?
DHA is important for your developing child since it:
has a variety of effects on how the brain functions, including sending messages to different sections of the brain and creating new connections and routes for those messages.
because it is a structural part of the retina, and has an impact on how children see.
WHO estimates that children ages 2-4 need between 100 and 150 mg of DHA daily. Eggs, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna), flaxseeds, walnuts, and DHA-fortified meals are a few examples of DHA-rich foods.
If the mother consumes a healthy, balanced diet, the baby can obtain the necessary DHA through breast milk. As a child is weaned off of breast milk, DHA can be obtained from seafood in the diet. After contacting a dietitian or other healthcare provider, you can offer your child 180 grams of seafood per week, which equates to around 4-5 pieces of fish.
Consider choosing a milk supplement with additional DHA for your child’s growth and development as another option to be sure you are giving your child the proper amount.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF DHA
Because DHA promotes healthy brain development, it may be recommended that pregnant women take prenatal supplements containing 200 mg to 300 mg of DHA. 2 Numerous studies have discovered beneficial correlations between prenatal DHA supplementation and baby neurological development.
Higher DHA levels at birth are linked to better childhood neurodevelopmental health, while lower DHA levels were linked to higher rates of autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to research published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in 2019.
Brain development: A previous study found that children of women who took supplements during pregnancy had higher problem-solving skills than controls during the first year of life. Most recent studies revealed a relationship between children’s performance in language and short-term memory activities at ages 5 and 6 and their mothers’ DHA levels.
Eye health: According to a 2008 study, kids whose moms took DHA supplements had greater early visual acuity than babies whose mothers did not. 2014 research that was published bolsters this conclusion.
In the final trimesters of pregnancy, DHA supplementation has also been related to a lower risk of early preterm labor. 7 Also, pregnancies with supplements had reduced percentages of babies born at 34 weeks or earlier and shorter hospital stays for kids who arrived early.
350 participants in the trial, which was written up in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, received either 600 mg of DHA or a placebo every day during the second half of pregnancy. Pregnancies lasted longer for women who took DHA, and their offspring had bigger weights, lengths, and head circumferences at birth than those who received a placebo.
DHA has a particularly significant role in the nervous system’s development throughout the first six months of life. The majority of newborn formulae also include DHA, and breastfeeding parents are advised to continue consuming 200 to 300 mg of fatty acid daily.
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrients, low levels of DHA in early childhood are linked to lower literacy ability whereas greater levels are linked to improved cognitive development and performance, memory, and speed of doing mental activities.
WHAT WOULD BE THE POSSIBLE SID EFFECTS OF DHA?
Taking DHA in the form of fish oil is known to have a number of negative effects, including poor breath, heartburn, and nausea, despite the fact that DHA is generally regarded as safe.
Also, there is some worry that fish oil may damage the body’s ability to fight infections by lowering immune system activity. Moreover, taking fish oil along with some medications (such blood pressure medications) might occasionally have negative effects. Before taking fish oil with any prescription drugs, it’s critical to speak with your doctor.
Those who are on blood thinners or anti-platelet drugs should use caution when taking fish oil because it has a blood-thinning effect.
HOW TO CONSUME AND PREPARE DHA?
DHA is offered as a liquid supplement, gummy chewable, or gel cap supplement. DHA and EPA are frequently combined in dietary supplements. One gramme of fish oil, or 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA, is often found in a fish oil supplement; however, dosages can vary, so always read the label.
The majority of studies make use of more DHA (1,000mg to 2,500mg). A DHA supplement derived from algae is available if you’d rather stay away from fish.
Around 1,250mg of EPA and DHA can be obtained each day by eating two to three servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring, each week. However, pregnant women and young children should stay away from tuna and other high-mercury seafood, such as shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel.
Moreover, eggs contain a tiny amount of DHA (0.03g per serving). 21
Except for babies under one year old, there are no proven optimal consumption levels or recommended daily values for DHA (who should get 0.5g of total omega-3 fatty acids daily).
DHA supplements are sold in numerous drug stores, grocery stores, natural food stores, and stores that specialize in nutritional supplements. They are also widely available for purchase online. The FDA does not regulate supplements. Look for an impartial third-party seal, such as one from U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab, to be sure you are purchasing a high-quality brand.
Although consuming DHA supplements may have some positive health effects, it is still too early to suggest DHA as a treatment for any ailment. It’s critical to remember that DHA supplements shouldn’t be taken in place of regular treatment for chronic conditions. Self-medicating with DHA instead of receiving therapy for a chronic ailment can have detrimental effects on one’s health.