Docosahexaenoic acid

background

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon, tuna, and other types of fish. It is in the same family as other omega-3 fatty acids found in plant foods like flax, soy, and walnuts. In the human body, the highest levels of DHA are found in the brain, eyes, and sperm.
DHA has been studied for preventing heart attack risk factors such as high cholesterol. However, some research found that DHA may increase levels of "bad" cholesterol.
DHA has also been studied for improving brain and eye function, infant development, health during pregnancy, and mental disorders. Low levels of DHA have been linked to a higher risk of some conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer's disease, and depression. However, more research is needed.
DHA is now added to infant formula in many countries. It is believed to have health and development benefits.

Related Terms

20:6n-3,22:6 Omega-3, ALA, algal DHA, ALNA, alpha-linolenic acid, CA, cervonic acid, DCHA, DHA Gold™, DHA-S, DHASCO®, eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, fish oil, impact, K85, life's DHA™, Lovaza®, marine oil, MaxEPA™, Neuromins™, Omacor®, omegavenous, salmon, Schizochytrium sp., seal oil, single-cell source DHA, tuna, Ulkenia sp.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
 
Heart disease (Grade: B)
Previous research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve heart health, heart rate, and blood pressure. Some studies reported that high DHA levels may reduce the risk of clogged arteries, while other studies found that DHA may increase "good" cholesterol. However, some evidence is conflicting. More studies on the effects of DHA are needed before a conclusion can be made.
Infant development / neonatal care (Grade: B)
Much research has highlighted the importance of DHA in infant nutrition for proper brain development. Most studies looked at the effects of DHA in combination with other therapies. These studies suggest benefits of high-DHA fish oil in supplements or foods during pregnancy or in baby formula. Some studies looked at the effects of DHA in increasing children's IQ. However, more research is needed before conclusions can be made.
Age-related macular degeneration (eye disease) (Grade: C)
Initial research suggests that DHA supplementation may benefit people who have this age-related eye disease. Studies have found that certain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA may help improve eye health. However, there is conflicting evidence. Therefore, more studies are needed before conclusions can be made.
Atopic dermatitis (chronic skin disease) (Grade: C)
DHA may have anti-inflammatory effects in the skin and reduce severity of atopic dermatitis. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Bipolar disorder (Grade: C)
DHA is found in high levels in the brain, and its role in brain function is being studied. The effect of DHA in people with bipolar disorder has been studied in preliminary research. The effect of DHA in this population still needs to be determined.
Cystic fibrosis (lung disease) (Grade: C)
Preliminary research has shown that people with cystic fibrosis tend to have low DHA levels. DHA supplementation may be safe for these patients, although some studies found no benefits for lung function. Further research is required in this field.
Dementia (loss of brain function) (Grade: C)
DHA has been studied for potential benefits in people with Alzheimer's disease. Some preliminary research found that DHA reduced dementia risk by as much as 50 percent. Other studies reported that low DHA led to worsened behavior changes. Further research is required to determine the effects of DHA alone.
High cholesterol (Grade: C)
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on heart health are well known. Some studies suggest that DHA may increase levels of "good" cholesterol in patients with high cholesterol. However, the results are still unclear. The use of DHA should be carefully monitored by doctors. Further research is required before conclusions are made.
Infection prevention (infants) (Grade: C)
Baby formula containing DHA may prevent lung infection during the first year of life. More research is needed before firm conclusions may be made.
Liver disease (Grade: C)
Preliminary studies suggest that DHA may benefit people with liver disease. This includes liver disease in children that is not caused by alcohol use. Further research is needed.
Male infertility (Grade: C)
DHA is found in high levels in the sperm of healthy men. Some trials suggest that DHA supplementation may help improve fertility, although there is conflicting evidence. Further research is needed.
Metabolic abnormalities (increased risk of disease) (Grade: C)
One trial compared a supplement containing DHA to soybean oil and found no difference between the two treatments. Further research examining the effect of DHA alone is needed.
Phenylketonuria (infant disorder) (Grade: C)
Phenylketonuria is a disorder that causes a certain amino acid to build up in the body. A formula containing DHA may benefit babies with this disease. Treatment with DHA may improve motor function and coordination. However, benefits are still unclear. More research is needed.
Pneumonia (Grade: C)
Human research found that DHA-rich oil may benefit people with immune-based illnesses like pneumonia. Some studies found that DHA helped improve appetite in children with pneumonia. Further research is required in this field.
Pregnancy support (Grade: C)
DHA has been studied for potential benefits in supporting pregnancy and newborn health. Further well-designed research is required before conclusions are made.
Retinitis pigmentosa (eye disease) (Grade: C)
Preliminary findings showed that omega-3 fatty acids may improve eye health, although the results are mixed. Further research is necessary in this field.
Sepsis (infant infection) (Grade: C)
DHA-rich oil may support babies' immune systems, according to preliminary studies. DHA appeared to increase body mass and fat mass in infants with this life-threatening infection. Further research is required in this field.
Attention deficit disorder (Grade: D)
DHA has been studied for its potential benefits in helping children with ADHD. DHA appeared to improve attention span in healthy boys and protect nervous system function. However, there are conflicting results. More well-designed research is required.
Cognitive improvement (Grade: D)
One study reported that DHA intake resulted in a 50 percent reduction in dementia risk. However, other trials did not find benefits of DHA supplementation on brain function in healthy patients. Further research is required in this field.
Depression (Grade: D)
DHA is found in high levels in the brain, and its role in brain function is being studied. The effects of DHA on depression have been studied, but results suggest that it has no effect in patients with major depression or postpartum depression. The benefits of DHA alone are not clear.
Diabetes (Grade: D)
Preliminary studies found that DHA does not appear to have an effect on insulin or glucose levels in healthy people. In diabetics, however, DHA increased fasting glucose levels. Until further results are found in this field, people with diabetes should use DHA under the care of a doctor only.