What is DHA, or Docosahexaeonic Acid?

Written by OmegaXL on May 9, 2014

DHAis the acronym for docosahexaenoic acid, a long-chain fatty acid, which belongs to the Omega-3 fatty acid family. Omega-3s are termed “essential” because they are essential for human life and the body cannot make them in adequate quantities. We must get them from outside sources, ideally from the food supply. The 3 main forms of Omega-3s are Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and (docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

What are some sources of DHA?

DHA and EPA are derived mainly from cold-water fish and some shellfish, while ALA is found in plants. DHA is taken up directly into cell membranes, whereas plant-derived fatty acids are not. DHA is the most complex form of Omega-3 and is difficult to include in our diet because, other than fish, few foods contain a significant amount. Most importantly, since the quality of fish we consume is often compromised due to environmental pollution and various toxins, it makes more sense to obtain DHA from a highly purified Omega-3 supplement that is the result of strict quality standards in its extraction and production.

Why Is Omega-3 DHA Important?

As stated above, DHA should be obtained by general food consumption. Because the body converts ALA from plants into DHA very inefficiently it is not a direct replacement for DHA. Without consuming foods rich in DHA (fish), the level of DHA in our bodies gradually depletes.
Scientists have yet to work out many of the details about how omega-3s work, but its anti-inflammatory properties seem to be the common denominator, at least for some conditions. That would explain why high doses of DHA and EPA on top of more traditional medicines can reduce morning stiffness and joint pain and can help reduce the amount of pain and anti-inflammatory medication people with common joint conditions need to take.
Eye and brain health are another area of interest. Fats account for over 50% of the brain and DHA represents 30% of brain matter. The highest concentration of DHA in the human body is in the retina. In fact, the increasing prevalence of many medical and behavioral conditions in the western world appears to be inversely linked to the declining dietary consumption of DHA rich foods.
Because foods are more highly processed today, and people tend to not eat enough cold water fish, the Western diet is too rich in omega-6 fats and deficient in omega-3s. This is why including an omega-3 supplement in the diet is a good idea for optimum health as well as for added support in alleviating pain and inflammation from a variety of conditions. However, choosing the best source omega-3 DHA can often be tricky because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate or regulate these supplements. As a result, many manufactures opt to bypass any diagnostic procedures on their products. In order for you to get the best Omega-3 for your buck you have to do your homework. Some omega-3 supplements are clearly superior to others.