Category: Science

DHA Keeps Your Brain Healthy

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a central role in brain health. As I have discussed before, one of the key factors that correlates levels of DHA to brain health and disease resistance is DHA’s ability to turn on the brains “growth hormone” called BDNF. 

In this report, from the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, researchers evaluated the level of DHA in red blood cells in a group of over 1500 men and women aged 67 ± 9 years who were dementia free . The study then measured the size of their brains, and evaluated their brains by doing MRI scans to look for small strokes. In addition, the subjects underwent a variety of cognitive assessments. 

The results of the study were really quite profound. Those individuals having the lowest levels of DHA had significantly lower total brain volume as well as significantly greater levels of small strokes in their brains compared to individuals with higher levels of DHA. Beyond these findings, those with the lowest levels of DHA performed worse on tests of both visual memory and executive function as well as on tests designed to evaluate abstract thinking. 

DHA not only turns on the growth of new brain cells, but offers protection for existing brain cells while it enhances the ability one brain cell to connect to the next, A process called neuroplasticity. In addition, DHA is known to reduce the action of a particular enzyme, COX-2. Ultimately, this translates into DHA acting as an anti-inflammatory. This becomes quite significant when you recognize that inflammation is in fact a key player in both Alzheimer’s as well as Parkinson’s disease and, as a matter of fact, in virtually every other neurodegenerative condition for that matter. 

DHA is a fundamental component of the Grain Brain Lifestyle, and with obviously very good reason. I generally recommend at least 800 mg of DHA for adults and oftentimes even more. DHA is available as a supplement derived from fish oils as well as from marine algae. There is DHA in krill oil but the amount of DHA in krill oil is only about 10% of that found in fish oil. Eating fatty fish (wild) is also a good source of DHA and clearly explains why fish is considered “brain food.”

  • Jamie Cox

    I like Jarrow’s Ultra DHA (sardine,mackerel and anchovy)

    • Linda

      I think Vitacost’s Omega-3 Super DHA 500 is terrific !
      Has anyone else tried it ?
      Linda (Manchester, UK)

      • Johnson A

        I just wanted to say hello when I realised you’re from Manchester aswell. I stopped taking animal based dha for a while now. I’m currently on flaxseed oil and it’s somehow ok. Obviously I’ve now had my brain tested for any any kind of shrinkage yet 🙂 may be in my 40s I will

        Lastly can I get the vitacost in Holland&Barret?

        • Linda (UK)

          The Vitacost supplement is fish based (anchovy & tuna). As far as I know, it is only available from Vitacost USA directly. You can find them online.

  • Debby Robic

    What can you tell us about recent claims by some nutritionists that supplemental DHA (such as in fish oil capsules) should NOT be taken because they oxidize due to body temperature when ingested, causing potential harm?

    • Victimoflaud

      Vitamin E prevents that I think.

    • MikeR
      • JorgeN

        The study you refer to has been retracted.

    • David Perlmutter

      see my comments above

    • Emily Ziegler

      Use krill oil…it doesn’t oxidize

    • Emily Ziegler

      Use Krill Oil…doesn’t oxidize!

  • Deb Brown

    With the contamination of our waters and fish, are there any fish or products from fish that are safe to consume. It seems with Fukushima, etc. that fish are looking less attractive as a clean food.

    • Victimoflaud

      Go fishing, it’s almost free and the product is fresher.

    • Sherry Johnson

      Deb Brown – supplements from algae are available which are grown indoors in clean water.

  • Heather

    Is 800 mg a “daily” rec?

    • David Perlmutter

      Yes it is Heather.

      • Heather

        Thank you David!

  • diane

    Is there a healthy vegan DHA? I take a liquid one now for all Omega’s but it does not have enough DHA.

    • Susan

      Yes Premier Research Labs just came out with one from algae.

    • Victimoflaud

      Note that your body will only ever use 7% of vegan DHA and that’s an optimistic estimate. Expensive pee effect. This is one exception that’s worth making.

  • Diana Lynne

    Taking fish oil capsules caused me to have abnormal EKG’s! When I stopped taking them, I had an EKG and it was normal again. I try to take vegetarian DHA now, but I haven’t tested that with EKG’s yet.

  • rolo

    my husband was told not to take any fish oil because of prostate cancer issues

  • maggie

    What brand of dha do you recommend?

    • David Perlmutter
      • Ken O’Keefe

        This has 1,160mg of DHA….but only has 120 mg EPA. I’ve been taking a fish oil with DHA 140 mg and EPA 790 mg. What about the benefits of EPA (there are some….right?)….why is there always a trade off with DHA vs EPA? Is it not possible to get both in one supplement or does one have to go to two different sources to get the benefits of EPA and DHA?

  • Diane Adrian

    So where did hunter gatherers get 800mg daily.?

    • Victimoflaud

      They didn’t. They ate fish and mollusks from the time they were born and so did their mothers so mother’s milk was more full of it than now (they also breastfed a minimum of two years, not a maximum like today). They never ran low on it in the first place. We’re running low on it because our diets have cut out the important foods. It’s not accurate to compare a HG from Africa to a sedentary office worker from Americas. They had different diets from the time they were born. What you tell them to do is different.

    • trent

      From the animals that are grass instead of being fed grain to make them fatter and weigh more to make more money when sold

    • David Perlmutter

      Animals that are grass fed may contain ample DHA http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=141

  • kimmi

    Way too much confusion on what to take, then you hear some brands are bad, never any concrete evidence with anything supplement related. One Dr. says it’s bad for you, the next one says it’s good for you. You get to a point where you just feel like you’re throwing money down the drain. What brand of DHA are you recommending?

  • troy

    Read Dr sears info on tests done with epa and dha. Epa
    Should be 2:1 of dha. Epa helps dha be absorbed Nordic naturals
    Ultrimate omega extra has that ratio along with vitamin d

  • Catherine Devlin

    Can DHA also be found in farmed trout and salmon? Where I live we are unable to get wild trout/salmon.

  • Catherine Devlin

    Forgot to mention, I cannot tolerate DHA supplement (I get heart palpitations) hence why I am asking about dietary sources of DHA from farmed trout/salmon.

    • David Perlmutter

      Might look at DHA from algae – widely available

  • Foody

    Maybe unknown to many, but herring is actually one of the best fish to eat. And extremely high on vitamin D as well. http://www.fitonfood.com/healthy-dutch-tradition-die-hards/

  • Angel

    Coconut oil, MCT oil, also butter oil, very healthy, Fish oil is not for everyone.
    Yes any fat in a liquid form is oxidized. even put your olive oil in refridge.
    I am trying to just use ghee, and coconut. Avocado oil and macadamia oil good too, but more expensive


    • David Perlmutter

      Keep in mind that there is NO DHA in any vegetable based oil

  • Janice

    My husband is on blood thinners. Can he still take that much DHA

    • David Perlmutter

      You will want to discuss this with his physician.

  • Diane

    I have tried to take DHA when I was in my 40’s and it was giving me headache. I am now 65 yrs old and tried again recently. After 3 days of taking one pill a day, it gave me a headache again. This time it was a sharp pain on the right side of my head in my temple area. As soon as I stop taking the DHA supplement, the headache stopped. What is in DHA that cause this headache?

  • Amar

    How much fish should I eat a week?

  • Cindy Moore

    I have a question about coq10, I see your has a few differences from the Nature Made that I bought. What is the difference and would it be best for me to order yours through the mail, rather then buy naturemade.

  • Searcher

    I ate fish twice a week for years, plus sometimes took capsul of DHA and
    yet when I had an MIR of my brain to look at the pituatary gland…the brain had shrunk!
    Had it done again after 5 years, and guess what? Brain atrophy still!
    Did bread do that? I can’t imagine living without bread. DHA had no affect on
    my shrinking brain! Most fish is now contaminated by mining and Fukishima.
    Should I go off bread and such products completely to test out DHA Again?

    • Fatsy

      Eliminating all bread and wheat from my diet was the best thing I could have done! You don’t NEED it.

      • David Perlmutter

        Glad this worked for you!

    • VicLmech

      “I can’t imagine living without….” Sign of a true food addiction. I hear people discuss sugar with those same words.

    • Marie

      try fermented rye or other sprouted or fermented breads.. I am working on my own and substituting it for processed wheat products. IT doest the trick for now.

    • Andrea

      Of course! Naturlich, pero claro! You have to eat it raw. Did you heard people is worried about the body temperature, you can imagine how much a heated fish could be left? Well, almost nothing. Learn from esquimals!
      I eat sardines and salmon raw, as japanises do (after well iced), but sometimes don’t. And you see, I am here writing..

      Also, interesting is what Jack Kruse maintains, that in terms of health, what is more dangerous is shortage of natural light, sun and living outdoors! more than worry about mercury and such a scifi things. What is killing as, homoides is living indoor. We that for almost 3 million years lived outdoors, and only 150 years living indoors is outdoing everything mother nature made, causing a toll.

  • Emily

    I understand that flax seed oil does not contain DHA but that it contains ALA, which is used by the body to manufacture DHA (but certain minerals and vitamins are needed for this process). While flax seed may be an inferior choice compared to cod liver oil purely in terms of DHA it provides, would flax seed oil be a better choice for those who have heavy metal issues? I assume that any concentrated fish product has at best trace levels of mercury. Or, if flax seed is not a good source of DHA, is there any other non-fish source of DHA?

  • David Perlmutter

    I find this new information interesting. Clearly the oils in fish are at a lower temperature than when ingested by humans. That said, I still feel there is a vast data base for indicating that there are important health virtues of this supplement. We always couple fish oil with liquid vitamin E to offset the risk for oxidation

  • Carrie Gordon

    What is a therapeutic dose of DHA for brain health?

    • David Perlmutter

      You can find that information in this blog post Carrie: drperlmutter.com/grain-brain-seven-super-supplements/

  • Curiouser49

    Hello Doctor Perlmutter, This is my first entry to this blog and I thank you ahead of time for providing it. I am 65 and 8 months old. I have recently been diagnosed with an enlarged right ventricle in my brain. I had an episode last August in which I first got an optical migrane and then I found that I could not speak. I felt OK and was thinking clearly, but couldn’t put the sentences together, but could move my mouth. Overall, I have some arthritis, I am still teaching college part-time, have some trouble sleeping without a cordial of Bailey’s Irish Creme :). I should exercise much more. I have scoliosis too. But, I don’t think I show all this. I have a fairly good nature and am doing alright. Can I help my brain by taking DHA and Gingo type supplements? Many thanks.

  • dennis green

    Dr. P I take a little known brand of Omega 3’s called Moxxor from New Zealand Green Lipped muscles…It has a omega called ETA that is only found in his Bi-valve. Could you look into this product and see if it is as powerful as advertised? Thanks…

  • Bobby

    I am vegetarian what can I take in stead of fish oil? Is chia seed a good choice?

  • maria

    Dr. Mercola recommends krill oil, which he says is better absorbed than fish oil. Your take?

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  • Tanya

    My son is 11, about 100 pounds. is already taking vayarin for his ADHD, also Auditory processing disorder. How much of DHA for you recommend for kids his age? Thank you

  • neicy

    There is so much confusion out here about nutrition I ate protein and no carbs and then I started back on carbs, because I was craving carbs and gained a lot of weight and now the minerals and vitamins, and omegas-I am just going to take cod liver oil and eat right. Too much confusion out here and yes I have a trampoline that I use everyday and that is it!! Thank you very much.

  • Andrea Growick

    I am confused. There are too many variables for my “addled” brain to process. What should I take? What should I eat? Have both ADD and cognitive impairment.

  • Desiree Lee

    What is more benefical taking a liquid fish oil high in DHA that also has EPA derived from squid, or regular fish oil derived from mackerel and sardines? Nutrasea makes the high DHA fish oil I am talking about.

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  • Marcia

    I just started DHA last week. I am 53 years old. 500 mg mostly once per day. I am having loose stools and nausea. Does this decrease as the body becomes accustom to the 500 mg? Nausea is worse today… Maybe take every other day? Your thoughts please…

  • Matte Hoglund
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