DHA's Role in a Child's Mental Development
Healthy Living

DHA's Role in a Child's Mental Development

Elina Dawoodani profile Authored by Elina Dawoodani on 3 Jul 2014 - 12:29.

DHADHA or Docosahexaenoic acid which is an Omega 3 Fatty acid forms the structural component of many organs and plays a key role in the functioning of the brain. Though many other nutrients are responsible for the development of brain, DHA is the most important one.

Let’s find out what is an essential fatty acid, what is Omega 3 and how does DHA help in a child’s mental development?

Essential fatty acids: They are a group of fatty acids that are important for several bodily functions but the inability of our body to synthesize them makes it important to ingest them.

There are only two fatty acids that are known to be extremely essential for various biological functions. They include:

1.       Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-lenolenic acid)

2.       Omega 6 fatty acids (lenoic acid)

Omega 3 fatty acids are major components of brain cells. They help in brain’s chemical signalling system. There are three major forms of Omega 3 fatty acids:

1.       ALA (Alpha-Lenolenic acid)

2.       EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)

3.       DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)

Each of these play their independent roles in the body, but the most significant one is the DHA role, as it supports the brain development and protects neurological functions throughout the life. It has brain augmenting benefits. It’s a kind of structural fat that accesses the brain tissue and enhances its functioning.

Role of DHA in brain development

1. Neurological development: During the last trimester of pregnancy and infancy, the child’s brain undergoes rapid, complex and dramatic changes. DHA plays a significant role in the neurological development during this phase. Since the child is unable to extract this in its normal form, he/she depends highly on the mother for this nutrient. Hence, expecting mothers should take care of their omega 3 fatty acid intake during this period.

2. Formation of cells :Neuronal cell components are under constant reconstruction in infants. Hence, during the earlier stages of development in infancy, high levels of DHA are required as they help in formation of these cells.

3. Cognitive and visual functions: At least 50 recent studies prove that higher amount of DHA in children’s diet has a great impact on their cognitive and visual functions.

4. Muscle formation and development of co-ordination: DHA plays a major role in muscle formation and co-ordination in infants. According to recent researches, DHA is associated with development of motor control of the brain, which has an impact on cognitive functions, social development, behaviour and memory in children.

5. Cell signalling: Numerous enzymes that are involved in energy regulation are controlled by DHA. DHA is also responsible for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory compounds and hence it directly participates in the protection of brain.

6. Supports neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers between the cells. According to various researches, DHA promotes healthy levels of neurotransmitters which have a strong impact on grasping and learning abilities. DHA also promotes concentration, focused attention and calmness. Low levels of DHA affects the learning ability and leads to low memory and poor concentration.

7. Lowers depression: Many research studies suggest that food and supplementation of omega 3 has a positive co-relation with an array of bodily functions. The studies on DHA in specific are in limelight these days since they have been proved to support mental development greatly. For instance, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, conducted in the year 2009, low levels of DHA is associated with both mental and child depression.

Food sources of DHA:

These are good food sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in general:


Nuts and oilseeds

Grains (Some may be enriched with Omega 3 Fatty acids)



Others (some may be fortified with Omega 3 Fatty acids)


Flax seeds

All cereals

Canola oil






Cod liver oil




Pumpkin seeds


Walnut oil

Brussel sprouts





Flax seed oil


Soya milk




Soyabean oil


Fruit juices




Mustard oil





DHA supplements are available in two forms:

  • Fish liver oil capsules which have DHA along with other types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
  •  Algae capsules which have only concentrated DHA with no other Omega 3 Fatty Acids.


Though consuming foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty acids is the first preferred option, a daily dose of 600-1000 mg from supplements like fish liver oil capsules is recommended if one is unable to derive it from food sources. These supplements are meant for adults and nursing mothers in order to ensure the baby’s mental development.

There are many supplements and products enriched with DHA available in the market for children. Read the labels properly and check for DHA values. Consult your dietician in case of queries.





1.       http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/3/958S.full

2.       http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/daily-dose-omega-3?page=2


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.