There’s a trend of fortifying foods with the omega-3 DHA. One of the reasons nutrition experts recommend eating fish twice a week is that fish is a good source of docosahexaenoic acide (DHA), an omega-3 fat that has heart-healthy benefits. Preliminary studies suggest that DHA may help boost brain power, too.
It makes sense: DHA comprises much of the cell membranes in our brains. And food producers are taking the concept and running with it–they’re adding DHA to foods like yogurt, soy milk, and eggs, then marketing them with “smart” slogans. But do these products really maximize mental performance?
Some research links higher intakes of DHA with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the congnitive decline that prcedes it. In a 2003 study in the Archives of Neurology, people age 65 and up who ate at least one DHA-rich fish meal per week had a 60% reduced risk of Alzehimer’s. And growing evidence suggests DHA supplementation during pregnancy and early infancy may result in superior congnitive performance of the child. In June 2007, a randomized clinical trial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that 9-month-old babies of mothers who had eaten DHA-fortified cereal bars (about 200 mg of DHA per day) during the last trimester of their pregnancies demonstrated better problem-solving skills than did babies whose mothers had consumed placebo cereal bars.
Eating inherently healthful foods that have been fortified with DHA along with foods like salmon and tuna is a good way to increase intake of DHA, and research indicates that boosting DHA intake to about 200 mg per day–about three times what the average American consumes–may have some mental benefits.
Apart from possibly boosting brain functioning, DHA has other benefits for your body. Specifically, DHA can:
- Reduce inflammation throughout your body
- Maintain the fluidity of your cell membranes
- Lower the amount of lipids (fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides) circulating in the bloodstream
- Decrease platelet aggregation, preventing excess blood clotting
- Inhibit thickening of the arteries by decreasing the endothelial cells’ production of a platelet-derived growth factor (The lining of the arteries is composed of the endothelial cells.)
- Increase the activity of another chemical derived from endothelial cells (endothelium-derived nitric oxide), which causes arteries to relax and dilate
- Reduce the production of messenger chemicals called cytokines, which are involved in the inflammatory response associated with atherosclerosis
- Reduce the risk of becoming obese and improve the body’s ability to respond to insulin by stimulating the secretion of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate food intake, body weight, and metabolism and is expressed primarily by adipocytes (fat cells)
- Help prevent cancer cell growth
Other conditions or symptoms that may benefit from introducing more omega-3 into the diet include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Dry, itchy skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Inability to concentrate
- Joint pain
So, how can you incorporate more DHA into your diet? Try some of these foods rich that are rich in omega-3 DHA:
- Flax seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Brussel sprouts
- Cooked soybeans