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Many people wonder, "Does DHA work?" DHA appears to be important for brain and eye development when taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It may also have benefits for the heart and vascular system. Although most studies focus on DHA and EPA together, some research suggests that DHA alone may also be effective.

Does DHA Really Work?

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish. It is one of the active components of fish oil. Although fish oil has been studied extensively, there is less information available for the use of DHA alone.
This article will address the effectiveness of DHA for several different uses, including:
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood development
  • Heart health
  • Mental health.
Does DHA Work for Diabetes?
DHA probably does not work for diabetes. Studies suggest that DHA does not lower blood sugar or hemoglobin A1C (a long-term measure of blood sugar control).
Is DHA Beneficial in Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Childhood?
DHA may be important for brain and eye development when taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, keep in mind that some fish (and some DHA supplements obtained from fish) may contain heavy metals and other toxins that are especially dangerous for pregnant women. Do not take DHA during pregnancy without checking with your healthcare provider, who can direct you to a supplement that is safe for pregnant women (see DHA and Pregnancy for more information). DHA obtained from non-fish sources is unlikely to contain toxins or contaminants. One such product is Expecta® Lipil®.
DHA is an essential fatty acid, which means that it must be obtained through diet. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the only source of DHA for an infant is the mother. There is some concern that pregnancy may actually cause a DHA deficiency in women, since the developing fetus can deplete maternal DHA levels. Traditional infant formulas do not contain DHA, but many manufacturers now make versions with DHA.
Most often, DHA is claimed to help with fetal and infant brain and eye development. However, studies have been contradictory, with some studies showing a benefit for DHA supplementation and others showing no benefit at all.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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