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DHA 101 : What is DHA?

We've heard about it, read about it, seen it promoted as a nutritional component in everything from canned tuna to oatmeal, to powdered milk. But do we really know what this amazing nutrient is and what it can do? Here's a quick backgrounder.

First things first—WHAT IS DHA?

DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid, one kind of omega-3 fatty acid.

These are essential oils that the human body needs to function normally BUT our bodies cannot produce on its own.

Because of this, we need to get DHA from other sources such as—

OILY FISH – salmon, tuna, sardines
VEGETABLE OILS – flax seed, soy, canola
OTHERS – chicken, eggs



When it comes to brain nutrients, DHA is one of the most widely-recognized of them all.

Here's an amazing theory about its brain-building power. Some scientists believe that the inclusion of DHA in the diet of early modern humans may have contributed to the rapid expansion of their cerebral cortex—the first major step toward evolving into intelligent beings! 5-8

If you thought that was amazing, there are also scientific proofs validating these same brain-building capabilities.

Clinical studies9-11 have proven that young children that received the recommended levels of DHA and ARA during the first year of life showed superior brain development in terms of problem solving, visual acuity, verbal intelligence, and IQ, compared to those who were not.

Continuing to receive DHA throughout childhood is important to help keep the brain in optimal health. DHA is also important even before birth, because this is the time when the newly-formed baby's brain develops very rapidly. Pregnant moms are advised to get lots of DHA, which will serve as the building blocks of her unborn child's brain.

Amazing right? It gets better. DHA has been shown to deliver a host of other health benefits.


DHA helps lower fats in the blood called triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduces clogging in arteries. It helps improve existing heart conditions and also helps prevent cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.


By suppressing certain enzymes, DHA seems to decrease inflammation in the body and reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, it cannot prevent further joint damage.

Girls will be delighted to know that fish oil such as DHA may lessen the pain of menstrual cramps, when taken on a regular basis.


Now that you're more informed about the importance of DHA, give your child expert-recommended levels per day. But beyond that, you must also support it with appropriate mental stimulation on a regular basis. Here are some learning tips and tools to help jumpstart your child's optimum brain development!

DHA: A BRIEF HISTORY 1, 4, 8 PRE-HISTORIC TIMES – DHA has been around long before modern scientists began to tap its great potential.

1973 – The first study on omega-3 fatty acids is published, leading to hundreds more in the years that followed.

2000s – At the turn of the century, clinical tests revealed more positive results about its brain-building qualities.

2010 – Expert authorities come out with the recommended levels of DHA per day needed to maximize its brain-building benefits. What are they? Click here to find out.

THE FUTURE – there are continuing studies on the many benefits that can be derived from DHA, including promising research that connects DHA to prevention of heart disease, treating neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, and even combating stress! But to us parents, its effects on improving our children's mental faculties are still the most exciting of all!

1. Takiguchi, Sharon. The History of Omega 3. Published 28 Mar 2011 on www.livestrong.com.
2. "Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)", article on University of Maryland Medical Center website.
3. http://heart-disease.emedtv.com/dha/benefits-of-dha.html
4. Bradbury, Joanne.Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain, NatMed-Research, The Natural and Complementary Research Unit, Research Cluster of Health and Wellbeing, School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore, NSW 2482, Australia; Published: 10 May 2011
5. Broadhurst, C.L.; Wang, Y.; Crawford, M.A.; Cunnane, S.C.; Parkington, J.E.; Schmidt, W.F. Brain-specific lipids from marine, lacustrine, or terrestrial food resources: Potential impact on early African Homo sapiens. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. B Biochem. Mol. Biol. 2002, 131, 653–673.
6. Crawford, M. Cerebral evolution. Nutr. Health 2002, 16, 29–34. Nutrients 2011, 3547
7. Crawford, M.A.; Bloom, M.; Broadhurst, C.L.; Schmidt, W.F.; Cunnane, S.C.; Galli, C.; Gehbremeskel, K.; Linseisen, F.; Lloyd-Smith, J.; Parkington, J. Evidence for the unique function of docosahexaenoic acid during the evolution of the modern hominid brain. Lipids 1999, 34, S39–S47.
8. Crawford, M.A.; Bloom, M.; Cunnane, S.; Holmsen, H.; Ghebremeskel, K.; Parkington, J.; Schmidt, W.; Sinclair, A.J.; Broadhurst, C.L. Docosahexaenoic acid and cerebral evolution. World Rev. Nutr. Diet. 2001, 88, 6–17.
9. Drover JR, et al. Child Development 2009; 80 (5): 1376-1384
10. Birch EE, et al. Dev Med Child Neural. 2000; 42:174-181
11. Birch EE, et al. Early Human Development 2007; 83 279-284