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What Is DHA?

Fish oil softgels, which contain DHA.
Salmon fillets are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
DHA helps lower triglycerides and reduces the risk of heart attacks.
Breastfeeding provides a baby with a natural source of DHA.
Gel capsules with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement.
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  • Written By: Whitney Coy
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that has been proven itself vital in brain function and the clotting of blood. It also plays a major role in the development of the eyes and central nervous system for fetuses. DHA may also be key in the fight to reduce heart disease. It is one of many omega-3 fatty acids known to reduce blood tryglyceride levels, or fat in the blood. By lowering tryglycerides, DHA helps reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and hardening of the arteries.

A diet rich in DHA has also been known to reduce blood pressure. Some smaller studies have shown that this fatty acid can help reduce the symptoms of diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; while it may make the signs of these diseases less noticeable, it is not a cure for either of these diseases. A regular intake of DHA has also been shown to reduce menstrual cramping.

Much attention has been given to the importance of DHA during pregnancy and in early childhood. The brain and central nervous system absorb high amounts of this fatty acid while in utero and during the first two years of life. Babies born to mothers with high DHA levels are thought to develop mental skills at a higher rate and to have more visual abilities.

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New and expectant mothers are often flooded with options for ensuring their babies consume enough of the fatty acid. DHA can be found as an additive in prenatal vitamins, formula, infant cereal, and baby food. Breast milk is a natural provider of DHA, especially in mothers with diets rich in the acid.

To enjoy the full benefits of DHA, one full serving of a food rich in the omega-3 fatty acid should be consumed each day. Most people do not consume enough. It is found in fish oils, especially from fatty fish, known to populate cold water areas. Fish that are high in the fatty acid include tuna, shellfish, and salmon.

Since a menu of fish may not be appealing to everyone's palate, fish oil supplements rich in DHA are also available. Vegetarians can meet their daily intake by adding seaweed to their diets. Pregnant women and women who are nursing must be careful to avoid high levels of mercury, which is found in many fatty fish. These women should ask their doctors about DHA supplements.

There are some drawbacks to adding high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to a diet. People who are allergic to fish should not take supplements derived from fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may also cause a higher risk of bleeding in some patients.

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