LAKE OCONEE — When NASA scientists began to look for the best space food, they turned their attention to marine algae for its high content of the fatty acid DHA. We have since learned that DHA is not only important to astronauts, but everyday people here on Earth.
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that makes up a significant portion of your brain tissue and is essential for proper brain function. The areas of the brain closely related to memory show the greatest concentration of DHA.
DHA is vital for proper fetus development during pregnancy, especially during the first and second trimesters. DHA helps determine brain structure and protects the developing brain. DHA helps ensure that during early childhood, when the learning curve is steepest and brain tissues are forming and connecting, the brain will grow in a way that reduces learning issues further down the road. A recent study of Canadian school children from birth to age 11 showed that children with higher levels of DHA performed better on tests of memory and learning.
But DHA is not only needed when you’re young. It’s needed throughout our lives. Adults who are DHA-deficient show cognitive deficiencies and put themselves at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Low DHA levels have also been associated with depression and a higher risk of coronary heart disease. People who are at greatest risk for DHA deficiency are people who consume a vegan diet because their diets provide little or no DHA at all.
As we age, DHA levels drop. While it is possible to get DHA from your diet (cold water fish being the ideal source), that often is not enough. This is why supplementation is crucial. In studies with older animals given DHA supplementation, the DHA levels were normalized and the risks associated with deficiencies were reduced. Supplementation of 2 to 3g per day provides sufficient DHA to maintain healthy function if taken in addition to a well-balanced diet. If supplementation ceases, DHA levels drop.