Vegan DHA: what is it, does it smell, how do you get it, why do you need it and can you ever get too much?
What Is It?
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a healthy polyunsaturated fat. Vegan DHA is a nutritional supplement that is made from marine algae. Since it bypasses the fish entirely it is vegan friendly; it provides DHA the same way the fish get it. They nibble on the algae and that is what makes oily fish a dietary recommendation in the first place. DHA provides omega 3 fats, which are proven to promote heart health and help relieve inflammation.
Does It Smell?
Yes, since it is fish, the pills do have a distinctly “fishy” smell, and can cause an unpleasant burping with the accompanying aftertaste. Fortunately, there are some brands that have an enteric coating (like aspirins have to protect your stomach). However, the coating does not help much when you open the bottle, so be prepared for the fish smell when you take out a pill.
How Do You Get It?
While human bodies cannot make DHA, they do take alpha-linolenic acid from consumption of oily fish and/or supplements and convert it into DHA after a multi-step “long chain” process occurs. However, the conversion rate is tiny and can be inhibited by too much omega 6 fat. In fact, there is a debate still raging whether or not the body can convert enough DHA for good health. Therefore, it’s easier and more effective for even non-vegans to get their DHA from supplements. Previously, doctors tried to convince vegans to make a fishy exception to their chosen diet. Fortunately, there are now supplements made from actual algae, and not the oily fish that consume it, so that vegans can protect their hearts and keep their conscience clear.
Why Do You Need It?
It is widely accepted that DHA helps prevent heart disease by improving artery flow and lowering triglyceride levels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states only that there is some research that shows DHA can reduce coronary artery disease likelihood, but stops short of giving an official thumbs up. DHA is also said to improve your metabolism (the rate at which you burn fat), work as a blood thinner and help in brain development of fetuses and infants. That last point has suggested to some that DHA can help in managing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. No agencies firmly back the other health claims attributed to DHA supplements, so these claims and subsequent consumption recommendations should be taken with caution.
Can You Get Too Much?
Recommendations vary from source to source on just how much the body needs and exactly when enough is enough. Some studies tout the efficacy of amounts up to 2,000 mg, but conclusive standardized recommendations do not currently exist. According to the FDA, which does not have a specific recommendation on DHA consumption, 160mg daily is considered safe. If you have high blood pressure or allergies (especially to fish), or if you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor before using vegan DHA.