Levels of Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the brain decline with age and prolonged stress depletes our body of DHA, the symptoms of depletion show up as learning difficulties, depression, arthritis, eczema, vision difficulties, obesity and/or heart disease. Interestingly, even though it is crucial for our well being, we cannot make it in adequate quantities without help from food sources. DHA is an Omega-3 long-chain fatty acid. There are 3 main forms of Omega-3, ALA, EPA and DHA. DHA and EPA are the most important. They are derived from fish oils, while ALA are found in plants.
In a nutshell
Our brain has the most mitochondria in our body and is largely made of fat. Approximately 30% of our brain should be DHA. (mitochondria are where the biochemical processes of energy production occur). Our retina (in our eye) requires a lot of DHA, this is where light enters, and a lack of DHA can be a factor of cataracts, sensitivity to light, and a lack of vision. Eating foods rich in DHA means that the DHA can enter into the cell membranes, and influence energy production. Numerous studies have shown that for optimal brain and eye function, the type of fats we consume are of vital importance and will influence our brain function, emotions, memory and stress levels. For detailed information and a lot of science go to Dr Jack Kruse who writes extensively about DHA, light, adrenal fatigue and the importance of getting this right for our brain.
Where to get this fat?
DHA is the most complex form among the Omega-3’s and it is the most difficult to include in our diet as only few foods contain significant amounts and only these are able to be efficiently taken up directly by our cell membranes. Lipids Based Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Carriers and their Ability to Deliver DHA to the Brain: A Prospective Outline states that the DHA must come from a natural seafood source.
Some food sources of the brain food DHA: (only wild, not farmed) (3-5 times per week)
- Cod Liver Oil
- Algae (may be suitable for vegetarians)
- Breastmilk (for infants)
Health benefits outlined in the following journal article:
- DHA is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants.
- DHA is also required for maintenance of normal brain function in adults.
- The inclusion of plentiful DHA in the diet improves learning ability, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with deficits in learning.
- DHA is taken up by the brain in preference to other fatty acids.
- The turnover of DHA in the brain is very fast, more so than is generally realized.
- Decreases in DHA in the brain are associated with cognitive decline during aging and with onset of sporadic Alzheimer disease.
- The leading cause of death in western nations is cardiovascular disease. Epidemiological studies have shown a strong correlation between fish consumption and reduction in sudden death from myocardial infarction. The reduction is approximately 50% with 200 mg day(-1)of DHA from fish. DHA is the active component in fish.
- Not only does fish oil reduce triglycerides in the blood and decrease thrombosis, but it also prevents cardiac arrhythmias.
- The association of DHA deficiency with depression is the reason for the robust positive correlation between depression and myocardial infarction.
- Fish oil decreases the proliferation of tumour cells, whereas arachidonic acid, a longchain n-6 fatty acid, increases their proliferation. These opposite effects are also seen with inflammation, particularly with rheumatoid arthritis, and with asthma.
- DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.