What are the benefits of DHA to your health, and what about EPA?

Today we want to look at the benefits of DHA, (Docosahexaenoic acid), the most important of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as Omega 3 fatty acids, but which sometimes go under the name of n-3 fatty acids or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The DHA benefits are numerous. Lets consider some of the reasons why DHA is so important to your health.

There are so many different fats, like saturated fats, trans-fats, unsaturated fats, essential fats that it all gets confusing. The bottom line is that there’s good fats and bad fats. Some are useful to your health and some are not. DHA as well as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are what is known as polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are beneficial to your health and most of us are deficient in our levels of these fats.

In the past our diet was much higher in fish and other seafoods. We got our polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet. Now the average Western diet is too low in seafoods and as a result almost all of us are deficient in DHA and EPA.

Your body doesn’t produce essential fatty acids itself and so all of them have to come from your diet, or from high quality supplements.
DHA benefits

DHA and EPA are not the only omega 3 fatty acids. Whilst these are found in fish it is also possible to get ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from plants, however ALA is not as useful to our body as DHA and EPA.

As well as omega 3 fatty acids there are also Omega 6 fatty acids. However whilst our intake of Omega3 fats has reduced over the years our intake of Omega 6 fats has increased. That is because the main sources of Omega 6 are oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil and corn oil. As much of our processed food is cooked in or contains one or more of these oils our Omega 6 intake has increased.

An increase in the n-6 to n-3 ratio also has some serious health implications, we need to increase our intake of Omega 3 EFAs and reduce our intake of Omega 6 EFAs.

So lets have a look at the health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid. Somewhere around 60 % of the brain is made up of fat, and DHA is the predominant fat in the brain. It is also the predominant fat in the retina of the eyes.

An adequate supply of DHA is essential for the development of the brain and eyes, and pregnant or nursing mothers can supply of DHA to the fetus and the baby by taking DHA supplements themselves. Some infant formulas now contain DHA.

It is taken up more readily by the brain than any other fatty acid, because it crosses the blood/brain/placenta barrier more successfully. Most of the development of the brain occurs during the life of the fetus and infant. At birth the body weight of an infant is 5 percent of adult weight but the brain size is 70 percent of the size of an adult right. Most brain growth is completed by the age of 5 or 6.

There is evidence that 40% of children with ADHD have low levels of DHA. It is considered that it also has a beneficial effect on the academic performance of children in school.

It is also known that DHA has an important role in the development and health of the central nervous system.

For the adults studies are showing that it can help lower triglycerides and reduce the risks of heart disease, decrease blood viscosity thereby lowering the risks of blood clots and reduce the effects of various inflammatory diseases.

A study published in 2009 found that a deficiency of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats was one of the most important causes of premature and avoidable death in the US, with somewhere around 72000 to 96000 people dying from this deficiency.

In many cases the studies are showing that the benefits of fish oil come from the combination of DHA and EPA together, and it’s difficult to separate out DHA benefits on their own. However it’s clear that increasing your intake of DHA is very important to your health.

Fish and fish oils supplements contain DHA and EPA together. However many have way more EPA than DHA, and some are now beginning to think it should be the other way round. That the DHA is more important to your health, and that this should be the predominant n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in the fish oil capsules.

The best Omega 3 capsules now have more DHA than EPA.

There’s no doubt now that almost all of us on the western diet are chronically short of the essential fatty acids known as Omega-3, particularly DHA. And that for some of us this could cause our premature death.

The good news is that there are excellent fish oil capsules available that allow us to take our DHA, and EPA, daily, providing a higher amount of DHA than EPA.

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