Brain-Related Benefits of Adequate DHA Levels
1. Improved Cognitive Function
Adequate DHA levels are linked to improved cognitive function. In one review from 2016, the authors looked at the available data on the subject and shared a few highlights (9):
- DHA accounts for 90 per cent of the total omega-3 fatty acids in the brain. EPA and ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) are present in small quantities. DHA also makes up 10 to 20 per cent of the total lipid content of the brain.
- DHA can have a profound neurological impact thanks to its ability to modulate pathways and facilitate neurotransmission, neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and more.
- The modern diet lacks DHA, making omega-3 supplements beneficial for optimizing your intake of fatty acids.
Research also finds a correlation between a drop in brain DHA levels and age-related cognitive decline (10).
2. Reduced Risk of Neurological Conditions
Neurological disorders are those that affect the brain and nervous system. Such conditions can occur for various reasons, including structural changes, biochemical impairments, etc.
One relatively common condition in children and adults is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD are more likely to make impulsive decisions and struggle to concentrate on a single thing.
Interestingly, research finds a correlation between ADHD and lower DHA levels in the brain (11). Further, data shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can help reduce ADHD symptoms, allowing people to lead everyday lives (12, 13).
Another example is Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and life-limiting condition that leads to memory loss, confusion, an inability to learn new things, and more (14). Data suggests adults with Alzheimer’s have lower DHA levels than people with healthy brain function (15).
A review of observational research found a link between a higher omega-3 intake and a lower risk of cognitive decline (16). Unfortunately, EPA and DHA might not be as effective for treating people with dementia, as studies show mixed findings.
3. Oxidative and Inflammatory Protection
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are unstable molecules that form from metabolic activity in the body. Moderate amounts of these molecules can benefit health, but high levels can lead to oxidative stress and disease (17). The brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress, leading to functional decline (18).
The good news is that DHA appears to be a potent antioxidant, capable of controlling ROS and boosting your body’s antioxidant capacity (19).
Further, DHA has anti-inflammatory effects. Boosting your DHA intake can bring a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, reducing the risk of chronic conditions and protecting the brain. According to a 2012 paper, inflammation contributes to age-related cognitive decline and adverse changes in brain structure and metabolism (20).