DHA is an important structural fat in the gray matter of the brain. Studies have shown that DHA plays a major role in the mental development of infants and supports the mental function of children and adults throughout life1. There is a large and growing scientific body of evidence demonstrating that people of all ages benefit from an adequate supply of DHA, yet U.S. consumer intake is very low. The Alzheimer’s Association recently released results of two studies conducted on the effects of DHA on memory improvement.

One study showed 900mg per day of algal DHA improved cognitive function in healthy people (average age 70) with mild memory complaint. After six months, study participants taking DHA supplements made significantly fewer errors on a visuospatial episodic memory test (PAL), compared to when they started the study. Plasma phospholipid DHA levels doubled over the course of the study in those taking the DHA2

Another 18-month study on mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients showed increased blood and cerebral fluid DHA levels, but did not slow the rate of change on tests of mental function (ADAS-cog), global dementia severity status (CDR-SOB), activities of daily living (ADL) or behavioral symptoms (NPI)3.

Many studies have found that DHA levels are positively associated with cognitive function, from infancy through aging adults. “Obviously, if you have enough DHA, a structural component of the brain and nervous system, to adequately build brain matter, it makes sense that it would support better cognitive function,” states Cassandra France-Kelly, senior public relations manager for Martek Biosciences. Emerging research seems to indicate that prevention and maintenance are key, when it comes to brain health. Once individuals reach a disease state like Alzheimer’s, it may be more difficult for DHA to have a positive impact. Evidence is strong that DHA is important early in life to support the growing and developing brain.

Several expert bodies around the world have made recommendations for DHA intake among various populations. While FDA does not have a regulation establishing a recommended daily intake for DHA, the agency has not objected to the use of 160mg as a daily value for DHA. FDA allows companies to label their products as an “excellent source of DHA,” when providing at least 32mg DHA per serving. Pregnant and nursing women are recommended to take up to 300mg DHA per day; children and healthy adults 220mg per day, as recommended by the National Institutes of Health. The inclusion of DHA to infant formula has been recommended.

Kelly notes that algal DHA has a variety of benefits to manufacturers and a broad range of food applications. In fact, the American Dietetic Association has suggested that DHA-fortified foods are a great complement to a healthy diet. Some evidence has shown blood plasma levels of subjects eating foods fortified with algal DHA were raised as well as or better than those taking supplements, suggesting that a food delivery system may have benefits. “Regardless of how consumers get their DHA, through food or supplements, the important thing is that they get it,” France-Kelly finishes.pf
--Elizabeth Mannie, Contributing Editor

1. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) (2005). Lewin GA, et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on child and maternal health. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 118. AHRQ Publication No. 05-EO25-2. Rockville, MD.
2. Joseph Quinn, et al. 2009. A clinical trial of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Funding by National Institute on Aging; Martek Biosciences Corporation.
3. Karin Yurko-Mauro, et al. 2009. Results of the MIDAS trial: effects of docosahexaenoic acid on physiological and safety parameters in age-related cognitive decline. Funding by Martek Biosciences Corporation.

For more information:
Martek Biosciences Corp. • Columbia, Md.
Cassandra France-Kelly • cfrancekelly@martek.com