A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients has observed that people who have a higher DHA level in their blood are at 49% less risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease, as compared to those with lower levels. What does this mean and why should you care? We break it down in this post.
What is DHA and why is it important?
DHA or Docosahexaenoic acid is, simply put, a type of omega-3 fat. Our bodies can make very little DHA from other fatty acids, which is why we need to consume DHA directly from a food source or nutritional supplements.
As evidenced by several studies, DHA is essential for the development of the human brain in infants, and in maintaining the normal functioning of the brain in adults. In an adult, DHA also helps in supporting various functions, such as neurotransmission, neurogenesis (the process through which new neurons are formed in the brain), myelination (or the formation of the myelin sheath – myelin assists in the faster transmission of information to the brain, thereby allowing complex brain processes).
DHA can also help improve one’s ability to learn things faster. Studies have also shown that increased DHA may reduce ADHD and help in muscle recovery.
How does DHA help in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s?
According to a study published in 2016, the brain contains long-chain omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), out of which DHA is the most significant, accounting for over 90% of the n-3 PUFAs in the brain.
Multiple studies have also found that patients with Alzheimer’s often have declining levels of DHA in their brain, leading to a decline in cognitive functioning. Conversely, it has been observed that providing extra DHA through one’s diet can assist in inhibiting or mitigating oxidative stress and neuroinflammation.
Thus, as per Dr Rhonda Patrick, people with enhanced DHA levels may be able to have an estimated additional 4.7 extra years of free of Alzheimer’s, as compared to those with lower levels of DHA (under 3.8%). This is ground-breaking as we now have the option of extending our healthy years by making simple additions to our diet and lifestyle.
How does one increase their levels of DHA?
DHA can be naturally increased through simple diet modifications and enhancements. Some good sources of DHA are:
- Fatty fish found in cold waters, such as salmon, tuna (especially bluefin tuna), sardines, herring, etc
- Seafood such as shellfish, oysters, clams
- Dairy and eggs
- Seaweed and some algae, such as nori and spirulina
- Grass-fed meat sources
If you are vegan and would prefer to avoid fish and other animal-based products, a supplement might be your best bet, preferably one recommended by a medical practitioner.
The bottom line is that while research is ongoing in this area, we have sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that higher levels of DHA do help in decreasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.