What are the health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)?

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
The omega-3 fats in salmon as well as other cold-water fish, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, and olives have numerous proven health benefits, including those that protect the heart. One omega-3 in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is the nervous system's favorite fat. It's the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and the retina of the eye. A full 50 percent of the weight of your neurons' plasma membranes are composed of DHA. Low levels of DHA or a deficiency results in reduction in logical thinking, hormonal changes, poor memory, mental decline, a higher rate of cell death among brain cells, depression, and an increased risk for heart disease.

DHA not only provides structure to neurotransmitters and facilitates neurotransmitter activity, but it also increases neurotransmitter receptor density, which allows the brain to make use of serotonin and dopamine signals (good for good moods!). Because of DHA's effects on brain and eye development, many prenatal vitamins for women now include DHA supplements. DHA protects the brain and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
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Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If you’re only going to take one supplement, DHA is the one you need. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that makes up a significant portion of your brain tissue. Lower DHA levels are associated with a smaller brain size, so it’s important to supplement your natural DHA intake (which comes primarily from cold-water seafood). Taking a DHA supplement reduces inflammation, combats the plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s, and increases blood flow to your brain. In fact, studies have shown that taking 600 mg of DHA supplement daily for six months boosts your brain so much that it functions as though it were three years younger!
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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
There's ever more evidence that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids do great things for your gray and white matter. The key is DHA, the active component of omega-3. Missing out on these good fats -- also found in salmon, trout, and the fish-free algal oil capsules I prefer -- shrinks your brain and boosts dementia risk. Not getting enough also messes up your ability to remember, for example, where you parked the car or put your keys. DHA omega-3 fatty acids protect your brain from damage after a stroke, too.

DHA omega-3 fatty acids help protect your vision. They also slash your risk for low vision and blindness. These good fats help by cooling inflammation, slowing the overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes, and keeping your retinas -- the "movie screens" in your eyes -- free of damage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.