Like EPA, docosahexaenoic acid is also a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, but it’s got two more carbons than EPA in the chain that makes up its structural backbone (that’s 22 carbons, in case you’re counting).
DHA is often talked about for the important roles it plays in brain development, both while we’re still in the womb and after.* Not only does DHA make up a lot of the gray matter in our brains, but it’s also a key component of cell membranes (which have a major impact on normal cellular functions and signaling), as well as neurons (the cells throughout the brain and entire central nervous system that send and receive messages).* DHA is also crucial for eye development and functioning throughout life and found in large quantities in our retinas.*
In terms of cardiovascular health, DHA gets a special shout-out as it has a notable relationship with lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol compounds), blood pressure, and platelet aggregation, studies indicate.*
When it comes to anti-inflammatory actions and critical roles in immune function, research demonstrates that DHA plays a major and synergistic role with EPA, decreasing genetic expression of four types of pro-inflammatory proteins and affecting white blood cell (our immune system’s “boots on the ground”) production of key cytokines, and more.*
As Ferira explains, “When it comes to normal and active resolution of inflammatory pathways and supporting immune response pathways in the body, DHA and EPA are both critical precursors for unique families of lipid bioactives in the body known as “proresolving mediators.” This critical network of lipid compounds was only discovered in the past 30 or so years, thanks to Charles Serhan, Ph.D., at Harvard and others.”*
In fact, there’s an entire field dedicated to this research known as “resolution physiology.” Ferira goes on to say that, “the bottom line is that without EPA and DHA being provided to our body via diet and/or supplementation on a regular basis, these lipid bioactives are simply not being produced (and are thus, literally not available to do their critical work in these inflammatory and immune-relevant pathways), which is mind-blowing and straight-up concerning.”*