Should one focus on DHA for brain health in childhood or DHA+EPA as used in the Durham trial in children with developmental coordination disorder?


Dear AC,

DHA is a physiologically-essential omega-3 fatty acid found in high concentrations in brain tissue where it mediates and supports optimal brain functioning. Thus, the focus has been on an adequate dietary supply of DHA during pregnancy and lactation (to support the needs of the infant). The Durham trial by Dr. Alex Richardson and colleaguesused a supplement containing DHA+EPA (with more EPA than DHA) and observed a considerable improvement in the spelling and reading ability of children with this disorder after 3 months of supplementation. It is possible that even though EPA does not accumulate or function in the brain as does DHA, it may possibly provide benefits to brain performance by various indirect mechanisms. For example, EPA tends to have the potential to promote vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) which could improve blood flow to the brain. Also DHA and EPA have been found to give rise to products known as protectin and resolvins which have strong anti-inflammatory effects and which appear to mediate the neuroprotective properties of DHA and EPA. It is quite possible that the optimal intakes of DHA alone or mixtures of DHA/EPA may vary in healthy individuals as compared to those with a chronic disorder. The recommended intakes of DHA/EPA for overall health including the prevention of chronic disorders are available on this website under the topic of ‘Recommended Intakes’ within the category of ‘Overview of Omega-3’.