What Is DHA?
DHA is actually an abbreviation. It stands for docosahexaenoic acid. The docosa- prefix comes from the Greek word for twenty-two because DHA is a chain of 22 carbon atoms.
In addition, DHA is a fatty acid. We often think of fats as fuel, however, DHA is in a different category. It’s more of a building material. The entire body is served by the bloodstream. Blood is mostly water.
The contents of cells would dissolve if they didn’t have membranes that act something like raincoats to keep water-soluble compounds inside them. DHA is used in the protective membrane of every cell.
DHA is a Special Kind of Building Material.
It’s a relatively long fatty acid. In addition, it can bend into compact, curly shapes. It’s more like a material for making a slinky than it is for building a brick wall.
DHA can be incorporated into cell membranes to keep them flexible. Furthermore, it’s a particularly important building material in the cells of the eyes and brain. But that’s not all that DHA can do.
DHA also serves as a basic building block for a group of regulatory hormones called eicosanoids. These regulators keep inflammation in check.
As a result, if you don’t get DHA and a related nutrient called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, from the Greek word for twenty, since it has twenty carbon atoms), your body can start inflammation but isn’t able to stop it.
What Makes DHA Essential?
Strictly speaking, it’s “omega-3 fatty acids” that are essential in the diet, not DHA or EPA. In theory, your body can make EPA from a naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), and then make DHA from EPA. ALA is found in lots of healthy plant oils.
The human body can’t use ALA without converting it, however, and not everyone has the active enzymes for this process.
In fact most of us can’t use ALA efficiently and have to get our EPA and DHA preformed in the food we eat. That’s almost always the case if you are not pregnant.
1. If You Aren’t Pregnant, Chances Are You Don’t Get Enough DHA
DHA is a critical building block for the eyes and nervous system in the fetus before birth. Unlike some other essential nutrients, DHA is more important in the last trimester than in the first.
It’s in the last three months of pregnancy that the baby’s brain and eyes are fully formed.
Women’s bodies are awash with estrogen during pregnancy, and estrogen catalyzes the process that transforms ALA (which is much more common in the diet) into DHA (which is found in very few foods).
If you aren’t pregnant, and more specifically if you are male, or if you are female and not of reproductive age, your body probably makes about 20% less DHA from ALA.
Even if you get enough “omega-3’s” in your diet from healthy plant oils, your body doesn’t make all the DHA you need. Males and females of all ages, except for pregnant women, need more DHA than they can usually get.
Therefore, taking a vegan DHA supplement is the most convenient way to get the additional DHA that the body needs. Additionally, DHA supplements are also helpful for women during pregnancy.
2. DHA Increases Fertility, and Helps Women Become Mothers of Healthy Children
DHA enhances fertility. In women, taking 1000 mg of DHA per day reduces the risk of premature birth. In men, taking 1000 mg of DHA per day increases the integrity of DNA in sperm and causes the semen to have greater antioxidant capacity. In addition, the clinical experience of at least 547 families is that children born to mothers who took DHA during pregnancy are less likely to have ADHD.
Furthermore, a group of researchers recruited 1,094 pregnant women in the United States, Switzerland, and Mexico Half (547) of the women received a placebo. Half (the other 547) of the women received a vegan DHA supplement containing 400 mg of DHA every day beginning in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
Five years later they gave all of the children the Conners’ Kiddie Continuous Performance Test. This test measures the ability to focus sustained attention.
Sustained attention enables success with a personal activity like tying shoes or brushing teeth, or playing a game, or listening to a lesson in school. The offspring of the women who took DHA while they were pregnant earned superior scores on the test.
Even when mothers don’t take a vegan DHA supplement during pregnancy, children develop faster if they are given DHA during infancy. Breastfeeding mothers can take DHA that is passed on to the infant, or babies can be given DHA-fortified formula. But it’s not just parents and children who benefit from DHA.
3. If You Eat a Lot of Healthy Fats, You Probably Need a Vegan DHA Supplement
People who eat healthy plant fats often need DHA supplements. The problem is that healthy fats aren’t all omega-3 fats. They also contain another group of essential fatty acids, the omega-6 fatty acids, chiefly linoleic acid, also known as LA. The other essential fatty acids, the omega-6’s, compete with omega-3’s for enzymes that transform them into regulatory hormones.
In addition, These enzymes will either make pro-inflammatory hormones out of omega-6 fats or anti-inflammatory hormones out of omega-3 fats.
Most of us get about 20 times as many omega-6’s as omega-3’s, so our bodies make about 20 times as many hormones that trigger inflammation as hormones that stop inflammation.
A “healthy” diet in the USA usually provides about 7% of its calories from “healthy” plant oils that are loaded with omega-6 fat. However, if you get more than 3% of your calories from omega-6 fats like those in corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, walnut oil, and olive oil, you’re getting too much.
You need supplemental DHA to make anti-inflammatory hormones to offset all the pro-inflammatory hormones that your body makes out of the omega-6 fat LA.
That’s even true of people who eat a lot of healthy plant-derived fats and oils. It’s even more true of people who eat a lot of animal fat and unhealthy plant-derived fats and oils. Therefore, this is another circumstance in which taking a vegan DHA supplement can really make a positive impact on your overall health.
4. If You Eat a Lot of Unhealthy Fats, You Need DHA Supplements Even More
Of course, it’s not just healthy foods that contain too many omega-6 essential fatty acids. Unhealthy foods do, too. Anything made with soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, or margarine is loaded with omega-6 essential fatty acids. LA (which is transformed into inflammation-increasing hormones) is also abundant in bacon and other pork products. AA (arachidonic acid), which is a product of LA that increases inflammation, is preformed and abundant in hamburger, hot dogs, and egg yolks.
Inflammation isn’t always bad. We need inflammation to fight infections and to remove damaged tissues.
However, if you eat a lot of fried food, bacon, and salad dressing, you are providing your body with the raw materials to cause inflammation without the raw materials to control it.
You probably need to eat less fat in general, but you probably also need to take a vegan DHA supplement.
5. If You Diet to Lose Weight, You Need DHA Supplements
There’s a growing body of evidence that DHA can be of help in weight-loss diets. One way that DHA helps dieters is by lowering insulin resistance.
You can lose weight if you have problems with insulin resistance, however, it’s very hard to do so because insulin-resistant cells don’t want to accept glucose from your bloodstream. They shut off receptor ports for insulin so they aren’t flooded with sugar they can’t use.
In addition, the pancreas responds to releasing even more insulin. Cells in almost all of the body respond by becoming even more insulin resistant (the brain in both sexes and the ovaries in women don’t develop insulin resistance). What does the pancreas do? It releases even more insulin, which makes cells become even more insulin resistant.
The reason this process makes losing weight hard is that insulin doesn’t just govern the transport of sugar from the bloodstream into cells. It also determines whether fat cells can liquefy their stored fats to send them to the muscles to be burned.
If you are insulin resistant, you can burn calories when you exercise, but you can’t burn fat…
High insulin levels keep fat locked inside fat cells that are eager to receive excess calories just as soon as you go off your diet. Therefore, taking a vegan DHA supplement can potentially help you lose weight because it helps lower your body’s insulin resistance.
6. DHA helps to reduce insulin resistance to make it easier to burn fat.
You still need to eat less, and you won’t burn fat unless you exercise. But exercise won’t help you lose fat unless you tame insulin resistance first. There’s good scientific evidence that DHA helps break down insulin resistance, but you need a relatively high dose, at least 1250 mg a day to make a difference.
Therefore, this is yet another reason to take vegan DHA supplement on a daily basis. It is the most convenient and powerful way to get your DHA.
There is also evidence that DHA is more helpful for dieters who don’t just eat fewer calories but who also get fewer calories from carbohydrates.
7. If You’re Over 60, You Need DHA
Older people benefit from supplemental DHA. More precisely, older brains benefit from taking a vegan DHA supplement on a daily basis.
A team of scientists at the prestigious Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm gave older people who already had Alzheimer’s 1700 mg of DHA a day for six months. Then they measured changes in the DNA of white blood cells.
The clinical study showed the DHA protected DNA. It stopped a process called methylation that can “switch on” genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease and “switch off” genes that protect against it. Nothing in this study found that DHA cures Alzheimer’s, but there is strong evidence that DHA helps to keep it from ever starting, or at least to slow it down or stop it from getting worse.
Furthermore, the benefits of DHA for aging brains are not limited to slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that taking 900 mg of DHA a day for six months help people remember where they put things.
DHA may be particularly helpful if you started having memory problems when you went on a statin drug. A clinical study concluded that taking DHA can help healthy people with verbal fluency and word recall.
‘There’s also clinical evidenced that taking a vegan DHA supplement for three months may help restore sense of smell.
DHA won’t turn back the clock from 70 to 17, but you don’t want that, anyway. DHA probably can help you forestall or avoid some of the dreaded mental changes that often happen with aging, and knock out brain fog in the meantime.
8. If You Get Sore After Exercise or Sports, You Need DHA
A clinical trial found that taking a vegan DHA supplement for at least two months reduces post-game and post-workout inflammation in physically fit young men. Another clinical study found that taking DHA reduced post-workout swelling, stiffness, and inflammation In physically active women.
Why is that second finding significant? If you have less pain and stiffness after you work out, you are more likely to stick to your exercise goals. This was the conclusion of a clinical study involving women who went to the gym to do eccentric exercise on ellipticals and stationary bikes.
After women in the clinical trial took DHA for seven days straight, they were more likely to make all their scheduled sessions for the week. 
9. If You Fight Infections Every Year, Try a Vegan DHA Supplement
Fighting infection requires good nutrition. Your body needs both the omega-6 fatty acid LA to make the inflammatory substances that kill germs, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to make sure the immune system doesn’t fight the infection with too much inflammation. Excessive inflammation expresses itself as excessive fever, muscle pain, and congestion.
In addition, tests of fatty acid supplementation in babies have found that it is a combination of the two different kinds of essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, that makes a difference.
Taking both kinds of essential fatty acids together reduces the frequency of cough, nasal congestion, and bronchitis. Furthermore, DHA also reduces the risk of diarrhea in infants, and probably reduces the risk of food poisoning in adults.
To get this kind of protection, however, you need to take DHA supplements all year round. You almost certainly already get the LA (omega-6) you need from your diet.
10. If Your Cholesterol Is a Little High, Try DHA
Clinical studies have found that supplementing with DHA can raise the “good” cholesterol known as HDL. It may not lower your LDL, but it increases the number of “fluffy,” larger particles of LDL that are too big to stick to the walls of your arteries, and decreases the number of smaller, “hard” particles of LDL that can actually cause atherosclerosis.
If You Need DHA, You Need a Vegan DHA Supplement
There are four basic reasons that vegan DHA is more effective than the DHA you get from fish or krill oil.
- DHA is more fully absorbed when it comes from plant sources. That’s because fish and krill oils have to be chemically treated so they don’t go bad while they are stored on the shelf waiting to be purchased. “Esterified” DHA from fish oil takes longer to get into the bloodstream and isn’t as completely absorbed.
- Fish oil and krill oil contain more EPA than DHA. You might be told that your body can use EPA the same way it uses DHA, but this simply isn’t true. Some healing eicosanoid hormones simply have to be made from DHA, and you get more DHA in a vegan product.
- Everything about the EPA you get in fish oil supplements isn’t always good. EPA sometimes causes excessive bleeding, higher blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, and excessively low blood pressure In people who take blood pressure medications. These problems do not occur when vegan DHA is taken instead of fish oil.
- Side effects such as fishy aftertaste, nausea, vomiting, belching, flatulence, dizziness, loose stools, headache, insomnia, bruising, and prolonged bleeding occur very rarely with fish oil that contains DHA plus EPA. But they are unknown with vegan DHA.
Just about everyone benefits from DHA. And the best way to get your DHA is to take a vegan DHA supplement every day. Doing so will help you achieve and maintain optimal health.