You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of fish oil and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. Fish oil and DHA are not the same thing. However, DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid present in fish oil, and most DHA-rich omega-3 supplements contain fish oil. If you’re not eating an omega-3-rich diet, ask your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.
Benefits of DHA
Consuming DHA on a regular basis can provide several health benefits. DHA is essential for proper brain function in adults, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. DHA also plays an important role in fetal, infant and childhood development, especially brain development. According to a 2012 review published in “Advances in Nutrition,” omega-3s, including DHA, are beneficial for cardiovascular health and may help enhance the quality of life in Alzheimer’s patients.
DHA in Fish Oil
Fish oil is concentrated with DHA. The amount of DHA you obtain from fish or fish oil supplements varies. Eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, is another type of omega-3 fatty acid present in fish and fish oil supplements. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, 4 ounces of Atlantic salmon or anchovies provide 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams or 2,300 to 2,400 milligrams of DHA plus EPA, respectively. When eating fish, it's hard to determine the exact amount of DHA and EPA you're consuming. However, you can find out how much DHA is in your fish oil supplement because it's listed on the supplement facts label. Some fish oil supplements contain up to 500 milligrams of DHA in just 1 teaspoon.
Although high amounts of DHA are present in fish and fish oil supplements, fish may contain harmful amounts of mercury or other contaminants, which if consumed in excess, can be harmful for fetal and childhood development. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration encourages pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding and young children to limit fish consumption to 12 ounces per week of low-mercury selections; these may include salmon, canned light tuna, pollack and catfish. Most DHA-rich fish oil supplements are purified and free from harmful levels of contaminants.
The amount of omega-3 fatty acids you need depends on your age and gender. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men consume 1,600 milligrams, women obtain 1,100 milligrams, pregnant women consume 1,400 milligrams and breast-feeding women obtain 1,300 milligrams of omega-3s each day. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that children ages 15 and older and adults consume at least 220 milligrams of DHA and 220 milligrams of EPA each day and that pregnant and nursing women obtain at least 300 milligrams of DHA daily. Talk with your doctor to see which supplement is right for you.
- Advances in Nutrition: Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Food and Drug Administration: What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.