What is DHA?

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Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

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DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

MCT Oil 101

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Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are medium length fatty acids. The term “medium” refers to the length of the chemical structure of the fatty acid. MCTs are most often derived from coconut oil and sometimes made from palm oil.

Before we talk about MCT Oil it is important to understand what a fatty acid is and how to classify fatty acids.

Fatty acids are chains of carbons linked together, surrounded by hydrogen. These chains have a Methyl end (often known as the Omega end) and a Carboxyl group (acid end) at the other end.

The acid end is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water-soluble, while the rest of the fatty chain is hydrophobic, meaning that it is insoluble in water, and requires a water-soluble transporter to travel in the bloodstream.

These chains can vary in three ways. The number of carbons, the extent to which the carbons are saturated with hydrogen, and how the chain is shaped.

Fatty acids can be classified according to the number of carbon molecules in their structure:

  • Short Chain: Less than 6 carbons;
  • Medium Chain: 6-12 carbons;
  • Long Chain: More than 12 carbons.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
The following fatty acids that are classified as MCT:

  • Caproic acid (with a chemical structure of C6:0);
  • Caprylic acid (C8:0);
  • Capric acid (C10:0);
  • Lauric acid (C12:0).

How do MCTs work
MCTs are commonly known for providing you with ready to use energy and better brain function. They’re absorbed quicker than other fatty acids and are easily converted into energy.

Although all four can be categorized as MCTs, only C6, C8, and C10 bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones, then sent out to the rest of your body via your bloodstream.

C12, on the other hand, behaves much more like a long chain fatty acid, going through your stomach, breaking down in your small intestine, then absorbing into your blood to get converted into energy.

Whole Food Sources
The following foods are the richest in medium-chain triglycerides, shown as the percentage of fatty acids that are MCTs:

  • Coconut oil: More than 60%;
  • Palm kernel oil: More than 50%;
  • Grass-fed dairy: About 15%.

Although the sources listed above are rich in MCTs, their compositions will vary. For example, coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs, along with small amounts of long chain fatty acids.

In coconut oil, MCTs consist of greater amounts of C12 and smaller amounts of C6, C8 and C10. In fact, coconut oil is about 50% C12, making it one of the best natural sources of this fatty acid.

In comparison to coconut oil, grass-fed dairy sources tend to have a higher proportions of C6, C8 and C10 and a lower proportion of C12.

Benefits of MCT Oil
With their unique structure and the way that MCTs are metabolized in your body give them a host of benefits that you won’t find in other fatty acids:

  • Antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help balance gut flora and support immune health;
  • Easier to digest than most other fats;
  • They may help you lose excess body fat;
  • Appetite suppression;
  • Provide quick, clean energy, especially brain energy;
  • May reduce lactic acid build up in athletes and increase the use of fat for energy;
  • May improve insulin sensitivity.

MCT Oil v Coconut Oil
The coconut oil industry loves to market the idea that coconut oil is a great source of MCTs because it’s about two-thirds MCT Oil.

Although just about all of the cheap and abundant oils in coconut oil are good for you, the problem is that the science shows that you just can’t get enough of the really useful MCTs from eating coconut oil alone.

Pure MCT Oil will usually consists of just C8 and C10 and is approximately six times more effective that coconut oil.

Some MCT Oils are diluted with large amounts of C12, which is a cheaper and more abundant part of coconut oil that is sometimes marketed as a MCT Oil. This may not be a concern for most people, however these oils are only about twice as effective as coconut oil.

C12 is most well-known for its antimicrobial properties, since it’s the precursor to monolaurin, an even more powerful antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses and bacterial infections.

While C12 itself has disease-fighting abilities, monolaurin from C12 is even more capable of inhibiting the growth of pathogens due to having stronger antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

If you’re after large amounts of C12 for its own health benefits, go for it. Just eat some coconut oil. You can get a fair amount of it from eating just a tablespoon or two.

If you’re after optimizing your brain function and overall performance, have a look into some quality MCT Oil.