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The Role of DHA in Brain and Eye Development

Did you know that there is incredible research to show that low levels omega-3 fatty acids can lead to a deficit in brain and eye development? There is one omega-3 fatty acid that is especially significant called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is an essential nutrient which means that the body cannot make it – it must come from food or supplement. And it has been found to make up 90% of the omega-3 fatty acids found in the brain (1). Wow!


The significance of DHA in the diet starts from the moment of conception. Daily intake of foods and/or supplements that contain DHA by a woman during pregnancy help to form the brain and retina of a developing baby (1,2,3,4). The amount a mom eats directly affects the amount her baby has access to (5). For moms that breastfeed, this transfer continues through breastmilk (1,2,3).

The benefit of DHA continues beyond the first few years of life. Demmelmair H., Oyen J., Pickert T., et al found that preschoolers showed improved cognitive skills when they consumed salmon (a rich source of DHA). We also know that once the foundation has been laid in early years, continued intake of DHA helps to support cognitive function into grade-school years and beyond (1,5).



This is actually a more complicated question than it appears, and we do not have exact answers, so research continues (1,2,7). That is the beautiful thing about the science of nutrition…it is on-going. But we do have best estimates as part of the research that has been done with a goal range of 250-500 mg per day of combined DHA and EPA (1). The Dietary Reference Intakes also have guidelines for total amount of omega-3 fatty acids per day which can be found here (include link). We also know that animal-based sources of omega-3 offer a more efficient access to DHA than plant-based ones. And we know that most people in North America are falling short of adequate intake of DHA (1).

So how do we apply this information? The first step is to talk about sources of DHA in the diet and how we can incorporate more into our regular intake. The second is to look at DHA supplementation.


One of the richest dietary sources of DHA is salmon. Others include mackerel, sardines, and omega-3 eggs. One way to achieve your goal for DHA intake is to consume salmon or an alternate fatty fish 2 times per week. If you like this idea but aren’t sure how to prepare salmon in a tasty way, I have you covered!

Here is one of our family’s favourite salmon recipes.

Maple-Soy Salmon

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 22-25 minutes

Oven temp.: 400 F

Serves: 4 people


4 x 4-6 oz. salmon fillets (preferably wild and with the skin on)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tsp. pureed garlic

1/2 tsp. pureed ginger (optional)

4 lemon slices


  1. Mix together maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger.
  2. Place salmon fillets on baking stone or in a glass baking dish.
  3. Pour even amounts of the maple-soy sauce over each fillet.
  4. Place a lemon slice on the centre of each fillet. This helps to keep moisture in.
  5. Place in the oven for 25 minutes. Check if salmon flakes apart. If it does, it is cooked through. If it does not flake apart, place cooking pan back into the oven for an additional 2-5 minutes.



But what about the days when salmon isn’t on the menu for supper? Or if you have a child who is still learning to like salmon and the majority of what you serve them remains on their plate? I am often asked this question and one amazing alternative that we use in our home is called Thinkmist™. Thinkmist™ is a DHA supplement that comes in a spray form. You can spray it right into your child’s mouth on the inner cheek or add it to their favourite foods.  Each spray offers 88 mg of DHA which is great because it allows you to personalize the amount for each child. Here are a few ways we like to use it in our home…


  • Pasta
  • Smoothie
  • Grilled cheese
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Yogurt with granola


1) Michael J. Weiser Christopher M. Butt 1 and M. Hasan Mohajeri. Review: Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2016 Feb 17;8(2):99. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
2) Innis SM. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Neural Development to 2 Years of Age: Do We Know Enough for Dietary Recommendations? Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: 2009. 48 (S16-S24). Retrieved August 8, 2019.
3) Innis, SM. Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and the developing brain. Brain Research. 2008 1237 (35-43). Retrieved August 8, 2019
4) Koletzki B, Lien E, Agostini C, et al. The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations. J Perinat Med.2008 36(1):5-14. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
5) Gil-Sanchez A., Larque E., Demmelmair H., et al. Maternal-fetal in vivo transfer of [13C]docosahexaenoic and other fatty acids across the human placenta 12 h after maternal oral intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jul;92(1):115-22. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
6) Demmelmair H., Oyen J., Pickert T., et al. The effect of Atlantic salmon consumption on the cognitive performance of preschool children – A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition. 2018. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
7) Eilander A., Hundscheid DC., Osendarp SJ., et al. Effects of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on visual and cognitive development throughout childhood: a review of human studies. Prost Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2007 Apr;76(4):189-203.

 This post is sponsored by DDrops, but the research review, written work, photos, and opinions are all my own. 



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