What is DHA and why is it so important?

DHA is Docosahexaenoic Acid. Its a bit of a mouthful so you can see why we just call it DHA! It is the preferred dietary n-3 Fatty Acid for the development of the brain and the retina. It is essential for brain maturation as we age and the literature shows that with neurological disease we see a significant decline in DHA in the brain compared with healthy brains.

When we look closer at how DHA is so incredibly important in how our brains develop, it reminds me of the fact brain cancer is the biggest cancer killer of the under 40’s. I see a lot of children with brain tumours, particularly neuroblastoma. With this in mind I feel it would be irresponsible at best to not make dietary adjustments to optimise DHA intake while also monitoring vitamin D status in paediatric brain tumour patients, particularly as they’re brains are still developing. There is the possibility of, at the very least having neuroprotective benefits to combat neuroinflammation and perhaps the harsh treatments families may wish to pursue for their children. I have seen unequivocal evidence of the benefits using this kind of approach on children with neuroblastoma in the literature but it is not applied clinically. I believe this should be standard practice. 

The most interesting work I have seen with DHA has been observations of brain tissue in gliomas. Even though I was diagnosed with a high grade glioma, I assure you that I am not just being biased, I wanted to show that even in the worst case scenarios DHA has a profound impact on optimal neurological functioning. Is it as a cause or a consequence? I don’t know, all I can do is share the information and provoke discussion. Can we reverse disease by changing the environment within these tissues? Quite possibly!

This is the biggest study that caught my attention for obvious reasons and the reason why I try to keep as close to a 1:1 ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids as possible. The majority of my omega 3 intake is DHA. EPA is also very important, and so are some omega 6 fatty acids, but the main issue is typically too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3, which can promote a more inflammatory environment. Far from ideal. Here’s the main study I found a while ago…

The fatty acid composition of human gliomas differs from that found in non-malignant brain tissue. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02587914
I put that in large print and in bold because I cannot overstate the importance of these observations not just for brain cancer, but also other neurodegenerative diseases as I say. 

So we have established that DHA is critical for maintaining normal brain structure and function, and is considered neuroprotective. These are not just statements without foundation, they can be backed up by facts as we see here for example.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1098882311000438

Where do I get my DHA from?

It is well understood that DHA is the active component in fish which is why I eat a lot of oily fish! There is an exhaustive amount of research showing that fish oil helps to reduce triglycerides in the blood and decrease thrombosis, it prevents cardiac arrhythmias, etc. so I won’t bore anyone by listing all of these studies.

As well as oily fish like sardines and mackerel (the oilier and fattier the better), I also eat ghee, sweetbreads, other organ meats high in omega 3 fatty acids. I used to eat brain a lot but sadly I stopped as I believed there may be a slight risk of scrapie living in the UK. Healthy brain is probably the best thing to eat on a ketogenic diet as it has everything nutritionally that brains need to thrive. Why? Brain is highly enriched in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which play important roles in brain structural and biologic functions as we have outlined.

Even though the risk of scrapie (a neurological disease that sheep get that is similar to ‘mad cow disease (CJD) is minimal, I didn’t want to take my chances so I just stick to sweetbreads which are a fantastic organ meat with similar benefits to brain. It’s the perfect ketogenic food, I made a video showing why here…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EU9q8Ywvus

This correlates with beneficial postprandial blood glucose and ketone readings and makes me feel all fuzzy inside after consuming them (in a good way, its not a type of worrisome infection). If you cook them properly they are very similar to chicken and like fish they go well with tarragon or cumin. 
In summary, in reference to the glioma studies we can see…

– Levels of the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are shown to be significantly reduced in the glioma samples compared with normal brain samples.

– This reduction in glioma DHA content is also observed in terms of phospholipids.

– The phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine phospholipid classes were shown to be reduced in the glioma samples.

– Differences were also noted in the n-6 PUFA content between glioma and normal brain samples.

– The glioma content of the n-6 PUFA linoleic acid was SIGNIFICANTLY GREATER than that observed in the control samples in terms of total lipids.

The observations speak for themselves and it would be difficult to argue with these facts so I’ll just rattle off some more information from the research I have read on this this and that I find relevant. I find this absolutely fascinating and so important. I feel we are missing a trick here, especially when we look at ketogenic diets. The need to take this information into consideration is vital and we must attain a suitable ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids if we want to improve efficacy for anyone with any kind of neurological disorder or disease. I wrote another post a while ago about how I monitor this. The post can be found here… http://mybraincancerstory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/omega-3-test-time.html

You can find more information at www.omegasense.com

Here are some more facts I find interesting about DHA.

– Protects neural cells from stress induced apoptosis while exerting anticancer effects. It has been shown to induce apoptosis in neuroblastoma, an embryonal tumour of the sympathetic nervous system. I touched on neuroblastoma earlier in the post. Here is the study- http://www.fasebj.org/content/24/3/906.short

– Omega-3 dietary fatty acids (fish oil in this case) reduce the risks of macular degeneration and cancers. Here we see that epoxydocosapentaenoic acids (EDPs), which are lipid mediators produced by cytochrome P450 epoxygenases from omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA!), inhibit VEGF- and fibroblast growth factor 2-induced angiogenesis in vivo, and supress enothelial cell migration and protease production in vitro via a VEGF receptor 2-dependent mechanism. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/16/6530.short
– Fish oil decreases the proliferation of tumour cells, whereas arachidonic acid, a long chain n-6 fatty acid, increases their proliferation. These opposite effects are also seen with inflammation, particularly with rheumatoid arthritis, and with asthma. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661899904954

I like this diagram from www.lifeextension.com

I hope that I have been able to reinforced just how much adequate DHA is ESSENTIAL for brain development and protection but it doesn’t quite end there! While we are also aware that DHA is primarily obtained through the diet or synthesized from dietary precursors, we have challenging problem we must overcome… the conversion efficiency tends to be rather low. How do we overcome this?

This is where another seemingly magical anti-cancer ingredient, curcumin (diferuloylmethane), can help. Curcumin is a principal component of the spice turmeric, and complements the action of DHA in the brain beautifully. Not many people seem to know this to my surprise.

Some facts about DHA and curcumin that people should be aware of:

– curcumin increases DHA in the brain and liver.
– Dietary curcumin and ALA reduces anxiety-like behaviour.
– Curcumin elevates enzymes involved in the pathway of DHA synthesis.

How does it do all this?

DHA synthesis is increased by curcumin, via an FASD2 dependent pathway. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443914003779

Thank you for reading, I hope you found this informative. Please share with anybody who may benefit!