Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. 

DHA can be synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid or obtained directly from breast milk, fish oil, or algae oil.


DHA is a carboxylic acid (-oic acid) with a 22-carbon chain and six cis double bonds.


Most of the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in fish originates from photosynthetic and heterotrophic microalgae, and is commercially manufactured from microalgae


DHA is produced internally from α-linolenic acid, a shorter omega-3 fatty acid manufactured by plants (and also occurring in animal products as obtained from plants).


Limited amounts of eicosapentaenoic and docosapentaenoic acids are possible products of α-linolenic acid metabolism in young women and men.


DHA in breast milk is important for the developing infant.


Rates of DHA production in women are 15% higher than in men.


Studies of fish oil supplements, which contain DHA, have failed to support claims of preventing cardiovascular diseases.


DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and retina.


It comprises 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain and 60% of the PUFAs in the retina. 


Fifty percent of a neuronal plasma membrane is composed of DHA.


DHA modulates the carrier transport of choline, glycine, and taurine, the function of potassium channels, and the response of rhodopsin contained in the synaptic vesicles.


Phosphatidylserine (PS) has high DHA content, and plays role in neuronal signaling and neurotransmitter synthesis.


DHA deficiency is associated with cognitive decline, and levels are reduced in the brain tissue of severely depressed people.


DHA is either obtained from the diet or may be converted in small amounts from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) via docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, as an intermediate.


DHA can be metabolized into DHA-derived specialized mediators. DHA epoxides, electrophilic oxo-derivatives of DHA, neuroprostanes, ethanolamines, acylglycerols, docosahexaenoyl amides of amino acids or neurotransmitters, and branched DHA esters of hydroxy fatty acids.


The enzyme CYP2C9 metabolizes DHA.


Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may be recommended to women who want to become pregnant or when nursing.


DHA is a major structural component of the central nervous system.

High levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), however, the most abundant omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in erythrocyte red cell membranes, is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

DHA obtained through the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids is positively associated with cognitive and behavioral performance.

DHA is vital for the grey matter structure of the human brain, as well as retinal stimulation and neurotransmission.

DHA is the most abundant omega3 fatty acid in the brain and retina.



The  brain and retinal function rely on dietary intake of DHA to support cell membrane and cell signaling properties.


This involves grey matter and retinal photoreceptor cell outer segments, which are rich in membranes.


Ordinary types of cooked salmon contain 500-1500 mg DHA and 300-1000 mg EPA per 100 grams.


Additional rich seafood sources of DHA include caviar (3400 mg per 100 grams), anchovies (1292 mg per 100 grams), mackerel (1195 mg per 100 grams), and herring (1105 mg per 100 grams).


Brains from mammals are also a good direct source of DHA.


Beef brain contains approximately 855 mg of DHA per 100 grams in a serving.


Certain species of marine algae produced rich nutrients, leading to the development of an algae-based, vegetable-like oil that contains two polyunsaturated fatty acids, DHA and arachidonic acid.


Some manufactured DHA is a vegetarian product extracted from algae, and it competes on the market with fish oil that contains DHA and other omega-3s such as EPA. 


DHA is used as a food supplement. 


Both fish oil and DHA are odorless and tasteless after processing as a food additive.


Vegetarian diets typically contain limited amounts of DHA, and vegan diets typically contain no DHA.


There is little evidence of adverse health or cognitive effects due to DHA deficiency in adult vegetarians or vegans.


Fish oil is sold in capsules containing a mixture of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA. 


Oxidized fish oil in supplement capsules may contain lower levels of EPA and DHA


Fish oil supplement oxidation increases with light, oxygen, and heat exposure.


DHA in seafood has been suggested as being helpful in the development of a large brain.


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