Ask any pregnant woman or new parent using baby formula. Chances are, they have heard repeatedly how critical the nutrient DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is to their little baby’s brain development. And it absolutely is!
But why do we assume our brain no longer requires this critical building block after infancy?
DHA can benefit every brain, from elementary age to elderly. Let’s uncover three ways, and three stages of life, in which DHA can be useful.
But First…What is DHA?
DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain and eyes; it’s also important to the heart. DHA, which is commonly derived from fish oil, is considered an “essential nutrient,” meaning it cannot be made by the body in sufficient amounts and must be obtained through food sources or supplements.
It is most commonly found in oily fish, such as salmon and tuna. Other sources, such as eggs, contain some DHA naturally, but may also be enriched. Vegetarian sources include algae, among others. Let’s take a closer look at this omega-3 fish oil…
#1 DHA and ADHD
ADHD, or Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is often first diagnosed during childhood, frequently in elementary school-aged children. Though many think of this as a “kid condition,” ADHD oftentimes follows people into adulthood. ADHD is most commonly characterized by impulsive behavior and difficulty in concentrating and staying on task.
Research shows that those suffering from ADHD tend to have lower blood levels of DHA. DHA, as the primary omega-3 fat in the brain, causes an increase in blood flow during mental tasks. In several studies, children given DHA supplements experienced improved attention or behavior.
In addition to increasing blood flow, DHA can boost the body’s ability to synthesize the neurotransmitter dopamine. Many ADD and ADHD medications increase dopamine. Dopamine is the so-called “feel good” neurotransmitter that allows a person to regulate emotional responses and take actions to achieve a positive reward. Lower levels of dopamine in those with ADHD may contribute to the challenge of working toward a goal or controlling impulses.
#2 DHA and Mental Health
Experiencing depression to any degree, whether mild, moderate, postpartum, or as a result of an injury, can be frustrating. It’s a challenge to live with depression; not being fully able to understand or explain why you can’t just “snap out of it” or “be happy” can be difficult.
Recent studies indicate the omega-3 DHA may contribute to the prevention and treatment of depression and other mental health issues. One way DHA may potentially help with depression is by aiding the brain in producing serotonin, which may help balance mood. DHA also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is beneficial in the fight against depression.
A study in Norway of approximately 22,000 adults showed those who took an omega-3 supplement daily were 30 percent less likely to have depressive symptoms than those who did not take the supplement. While more research is needed, and this study does not conclusively show a causal relationship, it does establish a link between omega-3s and depression, which is very encouraging and worth additional research.
An autopsy study was conducted on the brains of patients with diagnosed major depressive disorder. This study showed deficiencies of DHA in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, a region associated with depressive and emotional disorders.
#3 DHA and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological disease affecting memory and cognitive function, as well as the ability to independently perform activities of daily living. While Alzheimer’s cannot yet be wholly predicted or prevented, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Incorporating the omega-3 DHA into your diet or using supplements has been shown repeatedly to help maintain cognitive health.
Researchers from the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research recently evaluated the blood levels of DHA in more than 1,500 individuals age 67 or older. Additionally, the size of each participant’s brain was measured, MRIs of the brains were done, and other cognitive tests were conducted. The results of this study were very telling:
- Those with the lowest levels of DHA also had the lower brain volume.
- These individuals also had higher levels of small strokes compared to the images of those with higher DHA levels.
- The participants with low DHA levels consistently performed worse on visual memory, executive function, and abstract thinking tests.
Because DHA is such a fundamental building block in the initial development of the brain in infancy, it is thought to turn on the brain’s “growth hormone”, which may help increase neuroplasticity throughout your life.
DHA Supplements and the Brain
These are just three of many ways in which DHA can potentially benefit brain health. If you’d like to experience DHA’s effects on the brain and body firsthand, check out BIPRI Omega-3 EPA/DHA Plus! Our omega-3 fish oil / DHA supplement is commonly used for:
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