DHA is a Crucial Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Salmon rich in dha and omega 3 fatty acidsDHA is one of the omega-3 fatty acids that nutritionists implore us to eat. Why are grilled salmon and canned tuna part of nearly every diet and nutrition plan? Fatty fish is just one good source of DHA and other crucial nutrients. Find out how omega-3 fatty acids reduce chronic inflammation and help prevent diseases such as macular degeneration (ARMD), glaucoma, and diabetes. Pregnant people need omega-3’s to help the fetus develop. How much omega-3 fatty acids should you eat? And how do you balance them with omega-6 fatty acids, found in refined foods and certain meats?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that are important for health. The body cannot produce them, so they must be obtained through diet. They help reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. The main types of omega-3 fatty acids relevant to human health are:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): Found in seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin), nuts, oils (flax, canola, soybean, perilla), leafy green vegetables, winter squash, legumes, tofu, and edamame and supplements.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): Found in fatty or cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and herring, halibut, river trout, catfish, cod, red snapper), shrimp, crab, algal oil, breastmilk, infant formula, and supplements.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): Found in fatty or cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and herring, halibut, river trout, catfish, cod, red snapper), shrimp, crab, algal oil, breastmilk, infant formula, and supplements.

These nutrients are crucial for retinal health. When omega-3 levels drop, the retina tries to conserve DHA by recycling it.

Researchers believe this supplement may also stop visual decline in patients with diabetes and dementia. Experiments in mice found LPC (lysophospholipid)-DHA reduced Alzheimer’s-like eye problems, along with other types of retinopathies.1

Unfortunately, the standard American diet often lacks sufficient omega-3s. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming at least two servings of fatty fish per week, which provides about 500 mg per day of combined EPA and DHA. For individuals with heart disease, the AHA suggests 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day.

Our typical diet also has too much omega-6 fatty acids. The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s should be between 1:1 and 1:4. For many people, their intake is 1:15.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Do you eat a lot of white bread, white rice, and white pasta? Refined vegetable oils, refined grains and certain meats are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Too much omega-6 fatty acid relative to omega-3 fatty acid can cause chronic inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, asthma, cardiovascular disease, increased bad cholesterol numbers, obesity, insulin resistance, cancer, anxiety and depression, lowered immunity, and compromised cell integrity.

A type of polyunsaturated fat, Omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. In the right ratio, they also help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an Omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil and borage oil. Research on GLA has shown significant benefits in treating symptoms of chronic disease and reducing inflammation.

The most prevalent omega-6 fat is linoleic acid. Our bodies can convert linoleic acid into longer-chain omega-6 fats such as arachidonic acid (AA). 2 Although AA is essential, it also produces eicosanoids that can promote inflammation. 3 4

Brain Health

The brain is only 2% of the body’s mass, but it uses 20% of the body’s energy. More than half of its dry weight is made up of fats, also called “lipids.” Thus, its proper functioning heavily relies on maintaining an optimal balance of these lipids.5

DHA constitutes over 90% of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain and accounts for 10%–20% of its total lipids. The brain consists of both white and gray matter. Gray matter is responsible for processing information in the brain. Structures within the gray matter handle signals generated by sensory organs or other regions of gray matter. DHA is particularly concentrated in the gray matter.6

Infants need DHA for brain growth and functional development of the brain. Adults need this nutrient to maintain normal brain function. A diet rich in DHA enhances learning ability, while deficiencies in DHA are linked to learning deficits. The brain preferentially absorbs DHA over other fatty acids. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) helps the brain absorb DHA.

DHA Deficiency

DHA deficiencies are linked to fetal alcohol syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), phenylketonuria, unipolar depression, aggressive hostility, and depression. Reduced DHA levels in the brain are associated with cognitive decline during aging and the onset of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease.

A derivative of DHA safeguards retinal pigment epithelial cells against oxidative stress.7 DHA can oxidize in places such as the liver. However, DHA in the retina does not appear to oxidize.8

Neurological and Visual Health Impacts of DHA


DHA mitigates inflammation9 in retinal microcapillaries10 and the retina by transforming potent inflammatory agents into less active forms.11


EPA and DHA can help control the formation of blood vessels, which is important for treating advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), known as choroidal neovascularization.12 EPA and DHA can help control the formation of blood vessels, which is important for treating advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), known as choroidal neovascularization. They can attract immune cells to the site of abnormal blood vessel growth that distorts vision. These findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acids might be a promising nutritional therapy for other conditions involving inflammation and abnormal blood vessel growth.13

Computer Eyestrain

In a year-long trial, 500 patients using the computer for 3 or more hours daily, received 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA. They reported improvement in dry eye symptoms.14 In combination with bilberry and lutein, EPA improved computer eyestrain symptoms, including stiff shoulders, back pain, and dry eyes during a four-week test period.15

Disease Prevention and Management


Patients with primary open-angle glaucoma often have low levels of DHA and EPA in their blood. They also have reduced blood flow to the optic nerve. These omega-3s help regulate blood circulation in the eye.16

Macular Degeneration

A low-fat diet, with only 10% of calories from fat and no red meat or milk products, reduces the risk of AMD. However, adding omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil to the diet can further lower the risk of AMD.17

In one study, 85% of AMD patients over age 70 experienced improved vision after four weeks of omega-3 supplements.18 Other research supports these findings, including a meta-analysis of over 270 studies,19 a 12-year longitudinal study of more than 1,800 people,20 and a large 10-year study examining the diets of nearly 40,000 women.21


The retina, particularly the photoreceptors, has a high concentration of omega-3s, especially DHA.22 DHA plays a crucial role in the regeneration of photoreceptor cells, and its deficiency can alter rhodopsin content and photoreceptor function.23 DHA also provides neuroprotection for photoreceptors,24 helping to prevent cell death.

Retinal Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for nerve conduction in the retina and for reducing cholesterol, which helps keep retinal blood vessels open and maintains proper retinal nutrition levels. These fatty acids also protect against neuroinflammation, a key factor in many vision conditions.25  DHA, in particular, is abundant in retinal epithelial cells and offers neuroprotection, suggesting potential for future therapies.26

Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health

Cardiovascular Health and Diabetes

Fish oil helps reduce triglycerides in the blood and decreases the risk of thrombosis. This can prevent cardiac events. A study involving women found that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet could increase plasma triglycerides and the severity of Type II diabetes and coronary heart disease, including arrhythmias. 27

Related Disorders

Omega-3 fatty acids support the circulatory system and can reduce blood cholesterol levels.28 Omega-3 fatty acids support the circulatory system and can reduce blood cholesterol levels. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may inhibit inflammation, benefiting blood vessel endothelial cells.29 ALA is also being studied as a potential therapy for inflammatory bone loss in osteoporosis.30 Additionally, omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids are essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails.31

Pregnancy and Nursing

DHA is essential for the growth and maturation of an infant’s brain and retina.32 33 The growing fetus cannot store enough DHA to last after it is born.34  Therefore, DHA must be supplied from maternal stores via placental transfer during pregnancy and through formula or the mother’s milk after birth.35 Clearly, the pregnant mother must get enough DHA from her diet36  during and after pregnancy to support the child’s brain development.37

DHA in Breastmilk

High DHA concentrations in breast milk have been linked to several positive brain-related health benefits in infants. These benefits include a better ability to adapt to changes in their environment, 38 enhanced mental development, 39 better hand-eye coordination, 40 higher attention scores, and better memory performance later in life. 41

How Much DHA for Pregnant and Nursing Women?

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should aim to consume at least 250 mg of EPA and DHA per day, with an additional 100-200 mg of DHA specifically. This means that the total recommended daily intake for pregnant and breastfeeding women is around 350-450 mg of combined EPA and DHA, with a particular emphasis on ensuring sufficient DHA intake to support fetal and infant brain and eye development. 42


The health benefits of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids is well-documented. Simply eating two servings of fatty fish per week helps you get some of the DHA you need. Boost your diet by eating omega-3-rich foods regularly. Reduce your intake of white bread, snack cakes, junk food, and red meat to cut down on omega-6 fatty acids. Most fast-food joints, hot dog stands, and pizza outlets have scant amounts of omega-3s in their offerings. Many seniors choose to take supplments, such as high-quality fish oil, flax seed oil, or vegan DHA/EPA supplements from algae. Help head off or slow down diabetes, macular degeneration (ARMD), and glaucoma by adding more omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements to Consider

Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula (whole food) 60 vcaps – this is our whole food, organic, GMO-free foundation eye formula.

Dr. Grossman’s Meso Formula Optimal Ocular Health in Digital Age –  For overall retinal support and eye strain related concerns.

OmegaGenics EPA-DHA 2400 5 fl oz  OR OmegaGenics™ EPA-DHA 720 Lemon 120 gels

Vegan DHA (Algae) 200 mg 90 softgels

Vegan Omega 975 90 softgels (V89116)

Retinal Support (wild-crafted herbal formula) 2 oz

Dr. Grossman’s Whole Food Organic Superfood Multi-Vitamin 120 Vcaps – this is our whole food, organic, GMO free formula

Dr. Grossman’s Circulation and Optic Nerve Support Formula

Brain and Memory Power Boost 120 caps

Books to Read

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  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6860743/
  3. Khanapure SP, Garvey DS, Janero DR, Letts LG. Eicosanoids in inflammation: biosynthesis, pharmacology, and therapeutic frontiers. Curr Top Med Chem. 2007;7(3):311-40. doi: 10.2174/156802607779941314. PMID: 17305573.
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  7. Mukherjee, P.K., Marcheselli, V.L., Serhan, C.N., Bazan, N.G. (2004). Neuroprotectin D1: a docosahexaenoic acid-derived docosatriene protects human retinal pigment epithelial cells from oxidative stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, Jun 1;101(22):8491-6.
  8. Querques G, Forte R, Souied EH. Retina and omega-3. J Nutr Metab. 2011;2011:748361. Epub 2011 Oct 31. PMID: 22175009; PMCID: PMC3206354.
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  10. Chen, W., Esselman, W.J., Jump, D.B., Busik, J.V. (2005). Anti-inflammatory effect of docosahexaenoic acid on cytokine-induced adhesion molecule expression in human retinal vascular endothelial cells. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci, Nov;46(11):4342-7.
  11. Ibid. Querques. (2011).
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  16. Ren, H., Magulike, N., Ghebremeskel, K., Crawford, M. (2006). Primary open-angle glaucoma patients have reduced levels of blood docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids. Prostaglandins Leukol Essent Fatty Acids, Mar;74(3):157-63.
  17. Chong, E.W., Robman, L.D., Simpson, J.A., Hodge, A.M., Aung, K.Z., et al. (2009). Fat consumption and its association with age-related macular degeneration. Arch Ophthalmol, May;127(5):674-80.
  18. W.E. Connor, Neuringer, M., Reisbick, S. (1992). Essential fatty acids: The importance of n-2 fatty acids in the retina and the brain. Nutr Rev, Apr;50(4(Pt2)):21-29.
  19. Chong, E.W., Kris, A.J., Wong, T.Y., Simpson, J.A., Guymer, R.H. (2008). Dietary omega-3 fatty acid and fish intake in the primary prevention of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Opthalmol, Jun;126(6):826-33.
  20. SanGiovanni, J.P., Agron, E., Meleth, A.D., Reed, G.F., Sperduto, R.D., et al. (2009). Omega-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: AREDS report 30, a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Am J C Nutr, Dec;90(6):1601-7.
  21. Christen, W.G., Schaumberg, D.A., Glynn, R.J., Buring, J.E. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acid and fish intake and incident age-related macular degeneration in women. Arch Ophthalmol, Jul;129(7):921-9.
  22. Ibid. Querques. (2011).
  23. Bush, R.A., Malnoe, A., Reme, C.E., Williams, T.P. (1994). Dietary deficiency of N-3 fatty acids alters rhodopsin content and function in the rat retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Jan, 35(1):91-100.
  24. Bazan, N.G., Molina, M.F., Gordon, W.C. (2011). Docosahexaenoic acid signalolipidomics in nutrition: significance in aging, neuroinflammation, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Annu Rev Nutr, Aug 21;31:321-51.
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