The Brain and DHA

What is DHA?

DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, is a long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid.

While many food products claim to be good sources of omega-3s, not all omega-3s are created equal. There are three major omega-3s: ALA, EPA, and DHA, each with distinct health benefits:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a source of energy but there are no known independent benefits of ALA on brain or eye development and function.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) has been shown to support heart health.
  • DHA benefits brain, eye, and heart health throughout life. Numerous studies confirm that everyone, from infants to adults, benefits from an adequate supply of DHA.

Why do we need DHA?

DHA is one of the good fats found throughout the body. It’s a structural fat that goes straight to the tissues such as those in the brain, to keep them functioning to the best of their ability. Just as calcium is essential for building strong bones, DHA ensures that the cells in the brain, retina, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly from infancy through adulthood.

DHA accounts for up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and 93% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the retina. It also plays a key role in the anti-inflammatory process, is a key component of the heart and is naturally found in breast milk.

Brain food?

DHA is like brain nutrition, and the brain and eyes have significant requirements for preformed DHA.

The body continually turns over DHA throughout the lifecycle and it is important to replenish the stores of DHA in our bodies. While the body can convert DHA from its precursor fatty acids, this process is inefficient and varies from person to person.

Since our bodies don’t produce the DHA we need, we need to consume it through food, beverages or supplements.

Years ago, the average American diet included a lot more DHA, but these days — given our consumption of highly processed foods, and of farmed fish (which do not contain the same levels of DHA like ocean fish do), along with the growing number of vegetarians — most people need to supplement their diets with DHA.

Dietary sources of DHA:

  • Fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and trout. (Most people believe that fish produce their own DHA, but it’s actually the algae fish eat that make them a rich source of DHA.)
  • DHA-enriched products: life'sDHA™, a natural plant source of DHA, is currently used to enrich hundreds of foods, beverages and dietary supplements.
  • For a complete list of products containing life'sDHA™, visit