Docosahexaenoic acid – also known as the much-easier-to-pronounce DHA – is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Your body needs it, but unfortunately, your body cannot make DHA on its own. You can only really get from dietary sources or supplements.
Now, docosahexaenoic acid is most commonly found in fish oil supplements. You can get the finer details by reading about fish oil vs flaxseed oil. And while it can play a lot of different, beneficial roles, it’s especially important when it comes to the health of your brain and your heart. But there’s more to DHA …
How Can DHA Help You?
Turns out, docosahexaenoic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties. And foods with anti-inflammatory properties are thought to benefit people who suffer from certain chronic health conditions.
That’s because your body needs special nutrients like docosahexaenoic acid for better long-term physical and mental health. And recent research confirms that in order to reduce the potential risks of inflammation, heart health issues, and even mental issues, you’ll want to consider adding DHA to your vitamin and supplement regimen.1
You see, even if you’re pretty confident about your health, it’s still worth considering eating about three servings a week of oily fish, like wild-caught salmon, wild-caught mackerel, or wild-caught sardines.
You can, of course, get your docosahexaenoic acid from supplements. If you’ve done other research and you’re not sure whether to go with fish oil or algae … you should know, fish oil is a pretty good source of DHA. That’s because fish oil actually contains the fatty acids in the format your body requires them for easier absorption. However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, algal oil is not a bad option.
As mentioned, there are quite a few potential benefits when it comes to docosahexaenoic acid. DHA may:
Support Heart Health
First of all, most studies that delve into the various uses of docosahexaenoic acid happen to focus on heart health. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that there are several potential cardiovascular benefits of supplementing with fatty acids from fish oils like DHA.2
For instance, docosahexaenoic acid can help to regulate dangerous LDL cholesterol. But, at the same time, it can boost your healthy HDL levels.3 And fish oil can also help lower the risk of death from a heart health event.
In fact, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend that patients “eat a variety of (preferably oily) fish at least twice a week,” which is equal to almost to 500 milligrams of DHA, and other fatty acids, every day.4
Relieve Inflammatory Issues
Another study has shown that a regimen of supplementary DHA can also help reduce some of the inflammation associated with certain types of arthritis, though it cannot actually prevent arthritis. That said, docosahexaenoic acid could potentially (and temporarily) help ease joint pain and inflammation related to several chronic inflammatory conditions5,6
Aid in Eye Health
Now, it turns out, your brain and your eyes are highly enriched with omega-3 fatty acids. And omega-3 fatty acids happen to collect in your tissues before you’re even born — they’re essential for the formation and maintenance of certain body parts.
For example, there are very high levels of DHA in your retina. So, in order to help keep your retinas healthy, you’ll need to consume a healthy amount of docosahexaenoic acid.7
But What Are the Best Sources of DHA?
Yes, of course, you can take supplements to get your DHA. But if you prefer to get some through food sources as well, you can rely on the animal proteins below to help your body get its DHA fix.
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Wild-caught Herring
- Wild-caught Sardines
- Wild-caught Mackerel
- Wild-caught Sea Bass
- Wild-caught Shrimp
- Wild-caught Lobster
- Wild-caught Trout
- Wild-caught Oysters
- Wild-caught Tuna
- Wild-caught Tilapia
- Wild-caught Scallops
- Wild-caught Cod
- Omega-3 Eggs
- Pastured Chicken Breast8
Vegan Sources of DHA
And there are also vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but these sources will require that your body converts them to DHA and the other types of fatty acids it needs in order to serve its biological purposes.9
1. Perilla Oil – Perilla oil is most often used in Korean dishes. Basically, it’s the oil pressed from the roasted seeds of the perilla plant and has an especially nutty taste.
Now, certain population studies have shown that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent heart health concerns. But, the omega-3 fatty acid in perilla oil can actually be converted through the body’s metabolic pathway.Then it becomes DHA, and it can actually help increase the omega-3 levels in your blood cells. In some cases, this can really help prevent coronary issues and even help to decrease blood clotting.10
2. Flaxseed – Flaxseed oil is a pretty good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, but it doesn’t necessarily contain DHA. It too would have to be converted. But flaxseed oil has been known to help with inflammation.
Flaxseed oil will give you a little boost of omega-3s, but only in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. It’s more of a backup than a substitute for the omega-3s in fish and fish oil because of the conversion issue.
3. Microalgae/Algal Oil – Turns out, microalgae is the only source ofdocosahexaenoic acid acceptable to vegans.11 Not only can algal oil provide DHA, but because it doesn’t come from fish, it’s a pretty good vegetarian option. Another benefit of microalgae is that there’s no risk of ocean-borne contaminants.
DHA in Review …
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid – or DHA for short – is pretty important when it comes to keeping your heart, and your brain, healthy. DHA also helps promote good eye health.
Of course, you can find DHA in fish oil supplements and in various wild-caught fish dishes. If you’re vegan, however, you’ll want to look to sources like perilla oil, flaxseed, and algal oil.
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