Does maintaining your health seem like a lot of work? Would you like something simple, something that lowers inflammation, improves your cellular health at any age, and takes little effort? Consider DHA!
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a fatty acid, part of the omega-3 family along with alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). You can get omega-3’s from many food sources and supplements, but there are pitfalls to some of those. Let’s look a bit deeper…
Right from conception, DHA is vital to the formation of the child’s brain. Per an article published by the National Institutes of Health, “DHA is a structural constituent of membranes specifically in the central nervous system. Its accumulation in the fetal brain takes place mainly during the last trimester of pregnancy and continues at a very high rates up to the end of the second year of life.” This high demand for DHA during the baby’s formation in the womb makes the pregnant mother’s intake of omega-3’s vital. Good early brain formation cannot be replaced in later life. DHA is a great gift to the child in your womb!
In a study done at the University of Missouri-Columbia, researchers discovered another way DHA protects developing children before birth. Maternal stress (stress of the mother during pregnancy) can affect fetal development. The stress can impact the baby’s gene expression negatively, which appears as slower weight gain, but the study found that additional DHA tended to prevent the alteration of gene expression, with the baby developing at the normal rate. DHA was protecting the baby during development against the damage that the mother’s stress was causing.
The National Institutes of Health article also refers to DHA in early childhood development. Breastfeeding is noted as a very important dietary supply of DHA. Unfortunately, average breastfeeding duration is usually shorter than the World Health Organization’s guidelines of feeding exclusively breast milk for the first six months, and continuing breastfeeding with gradual introduction of solid foods during the first two years. But the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a longer timeline: basically as long as you and your child wish to continue, breastfeeding is OK. During that time, if your intake of DHA is high, so will be the intake of your baby, and your baby’s brain formation will set the stage for later life.
DHA continues to be an important factor of health throughout life. Some of the many benefits of DHA include:
- Reduces heart disease and decreases blood triglycerides while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Increases blood flow during mental tasks, and may even reduce ADHD symptoms.
- Reduces risk of early preterm births.
- Fights inflammation.
- Supports muscle recovery after exercise.
- Vital for eye health overall.
- May reduce cancer risks.
- May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
- Lowers blood pressure and supports blood circulation.
- Aids baby brain and eye development.
- Supports men’s reproductive health.
- Tends to protect against depression.
This list can be simplified to: DHA reduces inflammation, thereby reducing risk of a number of diseases, including cancer; it supports brain and eye development; supports muscle; and strengthens cardiovascular health.
The omega’s (omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9) are easily obtained in food. The typical Western diet tends to overload omega-6’s however: usually around 15 to 20 times the omega-6’s as the omega-3’s. A healthy ratio is considered 1:1 up to 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 is the source of arachidonic acid (AA) formation, which promotes inflammation, so this skewed ratio of high omega-6 and low omega-3 is harmful. The first reason to increase omega-3’s is to lessen AA’s and improve the ratio.
Omega-3 fats are “essential” — your body cannot make them from other materials and they must be obtained from food (which includes supplements). ALA can convert to DHA and EPA, but those are within the omega-3 family. Also, ALA conversion to DHA is hampered by 40% to 50% by poor diets with high intakes of omega-6. With high use of corn and vegetable oils, especially cooked and fried — or worse, hydrogenated versions of those oils — we are inflaming our bodies with AA and making it harder to utilize the omega-3’s. Decreasing or eliminating harmful sources of omega-6 is important, as well as increasing omega-3 consumption.
Bad sources, good sources
Very popular sources of DHA are fish and fish oil supplements. While these do provide EPA and DHA, there are better sources. Since fish are part way up the food chain, their bodies have processed and concentrated toxins from lower levels of the chain. The fish contains toxins you must avoid. Heat degrades DHA, so you may not get as much DHA from your fish dinner as you expect. Some supplement processing involves heat, damaging the supplement’s effectiveness.
If you are like most Americans, you probably don’t need the extra protein of fish either. Excess protein becomes a load that your body must deal with, usually with some drain on your health in the process. Too much protein means your body won’t bother recycling old, damaged proteins that have been integrated into your tissues, denying you of the rejuvenation that recycling brings. When your body needs to scrounge for protein, damaged proteins throughout your body become targets.
Don’t forget that ALA can convert to the other omega-3 fatty acids. Seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts contain high levels of ALA — assuming the seeds are raw. Your body is smart: when you need DHA and you provide it with ALA, it will prioritize this conversion. For those who have an ALA-rich diet, this may provide sufficient DHA to meet their needs. But there is another plant source that provides DHA directly…
As usual, plant-based nutrition is better than animal-based. Where does the DHA in the fish come from? The answer is — algae. Regardless of the type of fish, when you trace its diet down the food chain, you eventually come to algae. Some forms of algae are popular in stores: nori, chlorella, and spirulina in particular. If they are processed without heat, they can be great direct sources of DHA.
Diet or supplement?
It’s hard to get much simpler than taking a supplement. If you are disciplined and are living the raw, plant-based, low sugar diet, heavy on good nuts and seeds, you may not need supplementation. But most of us do need supplementation — good quality supplements, preferably from algae. Other supplements, because of the toxicity issue with fish and with processing which can turn the very unstable oils into free radical formers, are harmful: instead of helping your health you are inflaming it.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
When the body has less of any vitamin, mineral or nutrient it will become ultra-efficient with the supply it has. There is a prerequisite for this efficiency: one must be anti-inflammatory, and most of us are not. So is it necessary to supplement DHA? Yes and no. Yes if you are living a standard American diet and lifestyle which is inflammatory. If you eat plenty of fish the problem is not only that you are eating up the food chain which accumulates chemicals and toxins, but even worse is the state of processing of the fish you are eating. A brief explanation: DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid which is very unstable and heat sensitive. When you grill up that salmon most all the DHA is being heat treated, which means the fatty acids are in essence being destroyed and becoming oxidized fats that become free radicals. Remember to look to nature. Did you ever see a film clip of a Kodiak bear standing by the river edge and catching migrating salmon swimming upstream in its mouth? What food processing technique is applied to the salmon in his mouth? None — he eats it alive. No heat, no denaturing, no free radicals; yes chemicals and toxins from the environment, but this DHA will process properly into the cell membranes. Then some would say, “I eat sushi which has not been cooked.” It has been cooked with acid and chemicals instead of heat. This acid destroys the sensitive DHA just like heat does. So what is the safe source? From living/raw organic flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and most importantly from having an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. If this is not possible, then we have all our patients supplement with our high quality DHA from plant source only. This is very important because your brain, nervous system and immune systems critically depend on this fatty acid.
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- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.