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The Brain’s Essential Building Block
Do you have enough DHA, an essential fatty acid
to stay mental sharp and focused, not to mention happy?
Imagine a nutrient that could speed up your brain in just two hours. Such a substance exists, say researchers and it's an essential fatty acid called DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid, a type or good fat, which is abundant in seafood.
To study the effects of DHA on the brain, Japanese investigators wired 26 healthy volunteers to electrodes so they could measure a type of brain wave linked with learning and memory. Next, the volunteers were given either DHA supplements (2.8 gm) or placebos. A mere two hours later, the volunteers were retested. The researchers found no change in the placebo group, but those given the DHA had significantly faster brain waves. The researchers conclude, "[DHA] appears to be an exciting drug that can improve brain function... in healthy persons."
The latest research, just presented at a September meeting, suggests that DHA might relieve mental stress and prevent or treat a host of mental disorders, including depression, dementia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, alcoholism, bipolar disorder and postpartum depression. "I think we're going somewhere with DHA," says Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., chief of the outpatient clinic at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md. “We have a dietary substance that may help the mental function of millions of people without side effects.”
DHA and Intelligence
The reason that DHA has so much impact on the brain is that the brain is more than 40 percent fat, much of it DHA. Important new finding links the amount of DHA in the blood of healthy volunteers with the availability of the hormone serotonin (the "feel good" hormone boosted by anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac and Zoloft). Te more DHA, the more serotonin. DHA makes brain cells' membranes more fluid, which may help to amplify the transmission of chemical messages, in effect "greasing the wheels" of cellular communication.
DHA is critical for the early development of the brain in the three months prior to and following birth, the time of most rapid brain growth. A deficiency of DHA may result in some degree of impairment. Premature infants have lower levels of DHA than full-term babies because they are denied the full nine months of infusion from their mothers. A number of studies have linked this deficiency with lower scores on tests of cognition and visual ability. Giving premature infants DHA supplements has resulted in higher scores at one year of age, suggesting a direct link between DHA and intelligence.
Many people do not realize that bottle feeding can result in low levels of DHA. Infant formula does not contain DHA, even though this omega-3 fatty acid is present in breast milk. This hidden deficiency may be one of the reasons that in later years, bottle fed infants score lower on standardized tests of reading, visual interpretation, sentence completion, non-verbal skills and math.
Low levels of DHA are found in many adults as well, especially those who eat minimal amounts of seafood. In one of the largest dietary surveys ever conducted, 20 percent of Americans surveyed had blood levels of DHA too low to be detected. Smoking and drinking can reduce DHA levels further. "These substances [tobacco and alcohol] cause oxidative stress in the body, which destroys DHA," says Hibbein.
Women don't have to drink or smoke to drain their bodies of DHA, all they need to do is become pregnant. DHA is so critical for the developing infant that the fetus will pirate the nutrient from the mother’s tissues. Shortly after giving birth, the typical woman has half her normal blood levels of DHA. If she fails to replenish her reserves, she will have increasingly lower levels with each child. Some believe this hidden deficiency increases the risk of postpartum depression, a severe form of depression that some women experience following childbirth.
DHA (60 softgel capsules)