DHA is a fatty acid that is essential for many body processes and structures. Fatty acids are the building blocks that create lipids, which are important nutrients that make up 25 to 45 percent of total body energy for most of those who are living in industrialized countries. The majority of dietary fatty acids are made from dairy products, meat, margarine, and vegetable oils.
Lipids are important because they store and transport energy from one part of the body to another and they also insulate and mechanically protect certain parts of the body. Any fat that is eaten is converted by the body into fatty acids, where it is then burned for energy, stored, or synthesized into other acids which are called prostaglandins. Some fatty acids are also vital structural components of cell membranes. DHA is part of a special class of highly concentrated, long-chained, polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are looked at as one of the most fundamental molecules in the structure and activity of the membranes of all cells. They have a huge influence on the production of cellular regulatory compounds which are known as eicosanoids. They also are highly specialized in their function in neurological tissues, especially the retina of the eye. It is also very likely that omega-3s have specific and beneficial effects on the heart muscle, while they also influence the production of substances that control immune responses.
Fatty acids are short-chained, medium-chained, or long chained. Short-chain fatty acids are water-soluble and absorbed directly from the intestine into the bloodstream. They are generally used for immediate energy and can be found most abundantly in dairy products. Long-chained fatty acids are more emphasized when it comes to health concerns as they are stored in cell membranes and have a huge affect on membrane protein function. Their behavior in tissue membrane is what makes them greatly influential in health.
Besides the length of the chain, fatty acids are also described by their saturation. Saturation means how many hydrogen atoms the fatty acid carries. Fatty acids that carry as many hydrogen atoms as they can are called saturated fatty acids, while those that lose a pair of hydrogen atoms become unsaturated. This loss of hydrogen atoms creates a double bond between the two carbon atoms on either side of the missing hydrogen atoms. Those fatty acids that have one double bond are called monounsaturated fatty acids, while those with two or more double bonds are called polyunsaturated fatty acids. Most omega-3 fatty acids are highly unsaturated and have five or more double bonds.
EPA and alpha-linolenic acid are most commonly found in plant sources. DHA and EPA are made in phytoplankton, which is consumed by fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. The above reason is why these two essential fatty acids are found mainly in the aquatic food chain. LNA and EPA cannot substitute for DHA in all metabolic functions, even though DHA and EPA are more able to cover for each other in certain metabolic functions.
It has been found that LNA is less effective than EPA which is less effective than DHA in enriching tissues, meaning that food sources such as vegetables and seed oils are not as good of sources than sea foods or other foods that are enriched with DHA and EPA. DHA in itself provides most of the health benefits displayed in research, to take essential oils that contain no DHA would limit the health benefits discussed above and from other sources. Have you had your DHA today?