When we eat a dish in which oily fish is the star ingredient, we contribute to our body having the omega-3 it needs. Although it is not able to produce it, this polyunsaturated fat is healthy for our organism, since it allows us to develop basic functions, at the same time that it strengthens the neurons. It also contributes to the protection of the heart against cerebrovascular accidents.
DHA (1) is one of the different types of omega-3 fatty acids. This stands for docosahexaenoic acid, which is concentrated in three target organs:
- The brain.
- The retina.
- The gonads.
When introducing it in our diet, it is convenient to know which foods are the main source of DHA:
- Oily fish and other species, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, anchovies, horse mackerel, mackerel, etc.
- Seafood, including lobster.
- Fish oil and krill oil.
- Nuts, especially walnuts, almonds and chestnuts.
- Milk, cheese and other dairy products.
- Seeds such as chia and soy, among others.
As important as DHA and the rest of the omega-3 are also the omega-6 (2), other fats that our body cannot synthesize and that must be incorporated through the diet. The balance between both (3) is key. If this does not occur, we may suffer chronic or acute inflammation in case of infections and trauma, which would make it difficult to improve. Another consequence can be the appearance of chronic diseases, such as autoimmune diseases. Our western diet is high in omega-6 so to balance the balance it is necessary to increase our consumption of omega-3, specifically our consumption of DHA.
The benefits of incorporating DHA into our diet
Incorporating this nutrient into our diet allows us to enjoy a series of very interesting properties for our organism. These are the main ones:
1. Improves memory
Preventing premature aging in adults is, without a doubt, one of its greatest advantages. We can, therefore, benefit at a cognitive level and avoid the loss of memory and learning capacity, as well as improve verbal fluency.
How can we achieve these improvements? By supplementation with one gram per day of DHA (4).
Positive effects are also attributed to DHA for those suffering from depression, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Its relevance in the prevention of diseases associated with the central nervous system, in addition to its cognitive functions, should also be highlighted.
2. Takes care of eye health
At a preventive level, it acts on the eyes (5) and, more specifically, on the retina and macula. Preventing age-related macular degeneration is particularly important because, once it has manifested itself, the process cannot be reversed or slowed down.
It also prevents eye dryness that we suffer, for example, due to excessive use of screens during the day. It would also help to alleviate the effects of this disease and with NPD1 we maintain visual function.
3. Helps those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis
Reducing inflammation and joint pain are some of the effects for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. This is assured by some studies, such as the one published in 2017 by the British Journal of Nutrition (6).
What is this benefit based on? In that it causes a decrease in the content of arachidonic acid (AA) in the cells involved in immune responses. It also leads to a decrease in the production of inflammatory metabolites of AA such as prostaglandins E2 (PGE2).
One of the direct consequences is a reduction in the intake of pain-relieving medications.
Its anti-inflammatory capacity is produced by inhibition of up to 90 % of cytokines. In this regard, γ-linolenic acid (GLA) also comes into play and induces the synthesis of the so-called anti-inflammatory prostaglandin E1 (PGE1).
4. Prevents learning disorders
It helps in the prevention of problems related to learning (7), such as dyslexia or autism. In addition, improvements in clinical symptoms of ADHD are attributed to it. However, experts recommend further research in this area.
Something similar occurs with behavioural alterations, such as impulsivity.
5. Lowers cholesterol levels
Other benefits of DHA include the reduction of LDL and VLDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides in the blood. It contributes, in turn, to improve blood circulation, with its corresponding advantages.
It is usually recommended in cases where people suffer from overweight and obesity.
DHA supplements are our allies
To ensure the necessary intake of DHA, our daily diet will not always be sufficient. Therefore, the ideal is to take a supplement that includes the purest possible docosahexaenoic acid. In this way, we will also avoid the accumulation of heavy metals.
Before buying a DHA supplement, we should know that not all supplements of this type are the same. Specifically, the ideal is to choose one whose strengths are as follows:
- Maximum purity, since EPA inhibits the absorption of DHA.
- In triglyceride form, which gives it maximum bioavailability.
- Natural origin, better small fish such as anchovy from the South Pacific Ocean, where there is a lower concentration of contaminants.
- Treated with supercritical CO2 technology. It results in the cold extraction of DHA and preserves its properties.
- The fact that it has been elaborated free of phytanic acid.
- its deodorization.
- Being free of contaminants (PCBs, dioxins, furans, heavy metals, etc.).
- A low index of totox and anisidine.
We must remember that both the WHO and the FAO recommend a minimum daily intake of 1000 mg of omega-3, of which 250 milligrams are DHA. However, in Spain, this consumption does not reach 100 milligrams per day on average.
As we have seen, DHA is a food supplement that offers multiple benefits for the body. However, it is not always possible to ingest the recommended daily dose. In these cases, a supplement that includes 1000 mg of this nutrient in a single pearl will undoubtedly become our greatest ally to take care of our health.
- Aterburn-LM et al. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr, 2006; 83 (suppl):1467S-76S.
- Marc Vergés. Grasas buenas. Amat Editorial. 2017. ISBN 978-84-9735-970-2.
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2002; 56(8):365-379.
- Karin Yurko-Mauro, Dominik D. Alexander, Mary E. Van Elswyk. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Adult Memory: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Plos one 2015; 10(3):e0120391.
- Shindou et al. Docosahexaenoic acid preserves visual function by maintaining correct disc morphology in retinal photoreceptor cells. J Biol Chem. 2017 Jul 21;292(29):12054-12064.
- Miles E. A. and Calder P. C. Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012; 107:171–184.
- Rodríguez C, García T, Areces D, Fernández E, García-Noriega M, Domingo JC. Supplementation with high-content docosahexaenoic acid triglyceride in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019 May 8;15:1193-1209. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S206020. eCollection 2019.