DHA: The Omega-3 That Makes Your Brain Stronger

If you want to build a faster, stronger brain, a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplement is one of the best things you can take.

DHA is one of the main components of your brain cells, and getting more of it is a powerful way to support your overall mental function.

This article covers what DHA is and why it’s so good for everything from focus to mood. It also talks about the best sources of DHA and how much of it you should take on a daily basis.

What is DHA?

You may have heard about omega-3s before. They’re a type of good fat found in fish like salmon and tuna. Omega-3s offer a variety of benefits, ranging from better vision[1]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24557349/ to smoother skin[2]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0738081X10000441 to stronger bones[3]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9624425/ and joints[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10377605/.

There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the most powerful of them is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), especially when it comes to mental performance.

DHA is one of the most abundant fatty acids in your brain. [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258547/ It makes up a lot of the membrane that coats and protects your brain cells, and it also helps produce neurotransmitters— the chemicals that brain cells use to send messages to each other and to the rest of your body.[6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258547/

Here’s a closer look at how DHA helps your brain work better.

DHA Improves Mood and Decreases Mental Stress

Research shows that taking DHA can increase positive mood and help you worry less.

Several studies have found that people who have higher levels of brain omega-3s are less likely to be depressed.[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976923[8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17685742

Other studies have found that when depressed people start taking high-DHA omega-3 supplements, they see a boost in mood:

  • A 2015 study had depressed people take either a DHA supplement or placebo for three weeks. After 21 days, 67% of people who took DHA were no longer depressed, versus 20% in the placebo group.[9]http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178115003844
  • Another study found similar results: depressed people scored significantly lower on a depression test after taking a DHA-rich fish oil supplement, while those with placebo saw a minimal difference.[10]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924977X03000324
  • A third study found that stressed medical students showed a 20% decrease in anxiety after taking a DHA omega-3 supplement daily for 12 weeks.[11]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21784145/
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DHA Slows Brain Aging

As you age, your brain function starts to decline.[12]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5448694/ The degree of decline varies from person to person, but age often comes with memory loss, slower mental processing, and greater odds of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The good news is that there are things you can do to keep your brain from aging and preserve your mental performance.

DHA is one of the best supplements you can take to keep your brain strong as you age. Several studies have found that maintaining high DHA levels in your brain decreases your risk of cognitive decline[13]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19262590[14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19523795/, and that low DHA levels are a risk factor for dementia[15]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25592004/.

People with mild Alzheimer’s disease who take DHA also see an improvement in brain function and slower onset of symptoms.[16]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28466678/

DHA Enhances Focus and Cognition

DHA may also improve your mental focus.

A 2019 study found that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who took DHA daily for three months saw a significant increase in focused attention[17]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6514260/

Other studies have found that taking DHA reduces restlessness[18]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22541055/ and improves both memory and reaction time.[19]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23515006/

DHA Improves Sleep Quality

Sleep is an essential part of overall health, and it’s especially important for your mental performance. It’s during deep sleep that your brain processes and encodes information from the day before, and sleep also replenishes energy sources that your brain needs to function at its best.

Several studies have found a link between DHA levels and sleep quality, recovery, and faster time to fall asleep.[20]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7830450/[21]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24605819[22]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013386/

How to Get More DHA

There are two ways you can get more DHA: diet and supplements.

Eating foods high in DHA will increase the amount of DHA in your brain. The best dietary sources of DHA are fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, sardines, and herring.

You can also get DHA in supplement form. Fish oil is the most common (and best-studied) source of DHA.

Plants generally don’t contain DHA, with one exception. Algae is the only known source of plant-based DHA, and algae DHA supplements are your best bet if you don’t want to consume animal products.

How Much DHA Should You Get Per Day?

If you want to take full advantage of DHA’s brain-enhancing benefits, it’s good to aim for 500-1000 mg of DHA per day through food or supplements.[23]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

The most convenient way to keep your DHA levels high is to take a supplement. It’s a powerful way to upgrade your cognition and keep your brain strong, which is why it’s a common ingredient in nootropic formulas.

Give DHA a try— and if you want an even bigger boost in brain function, take this formula quiz to get a personalized nootropic formula based on your brain’s unique needs.

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