DHA/AA - Are They Important?

What is DHA?

You have heard that DHA omega-3 is good for you - but do you know why? Here are the facts.

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. It is a major structural fat in the brain and retina of the eye accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain and up to 93 percent of the omega-3 fats in the retina. It is also a key component of the heart. Numerous studies confirm that everyone, from infants to adults, benefits from an adequate supply of DHA

Why is DHA so important?

DHA omega-3 is naturally found throughout the body and is most abundant in the brain, eyes and heart.

DHA makes up approximately 30 percent of the structural fat in the grey matter of the brain.

DHA is a major structural fat in the retina of the eye. DHA plays an important role in both infant visual development and function. Studies with both premature and full-term infants suggest that an adequate supply of DHA, provided through either breast milk or DHA-fortified follow-on formula, is associated with better visual function and more rapid visual development. Research also shows that DHA may play a role in adult eye health.

DHA is a key component of the heart, especially in the conducting tissue, and is important for heart health throughout life

What are the best sources of DHA?

Dietary sources of DHA include:

  • Algae - Certain algae are natural sources of DHA. And while most people believe that fish produce their own DHA, in fact, it’s the algae they feed on that make them a rich source of DHA. 
  • Fatty fish including anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna and halibut 
  • Organ meat such as liver 
  • Fish oil 
  • Small amounts found in poultry and egg yolks

There is a common misconception that foods like walnuts, linseed oil, and flaxseed oil are dietary sources of DHA. However, these foods are actually sources of alpha-linolenic acid, ALA, a precursor of DHA. As compared to DHa, ALA has no known independent benefits on brain or eye development and function. Although the human body can convert ALA to DHA, the process is inefficient and variable. ALA to DHA conversion occurs at a rate of less than 0.5% and varies dependent upon age, health status, gender, and background diet.   ALA likely only provides 7 mg of DHA/day toward the recommended 250 mg DHA+EPA/day for adults living in the EU.

What is AA?

AA, or Arachidonic acid, is a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid, and the principal omega-6 in the brain which represents about 48 percent of the omega-6 fats in the brain. It is also abundant in other cells throughout the body.

Why is AA important?

It is a precursor to a group of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that play a role in immunity, blood clotting and other vital functions in the body.

Like DHA, AA occurs naturally in breast milk and supports infant growth and development.

What are the best sources of AA?

A balanced diet will supply healthy levels of AA. People obtain AA by eating foods such as meat, eggs and milk. Like DHA, ARA also occurs naturally in breast milk

*Based on a clinical study using 900mg DHA/day for 6 months in healthy adults 55 with a mild memory complaint.