In the August issue of Natural Medicine Journal I wrote a paper on how climate change and global warming are negatively impacting food quality.1 I provided several examples showing that global warming is causing declines in protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, and some B vitamins in our food supply. Preliminary research also shows that global warming reduces plant carotenoid concentrations.
New research is adding still another valuable nutrient to that already long list: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Given the multitude of critical health benefits from DHA, this latest information could be even more dangerous than the previously listed nutrients. The most critical role that DHA plays in the human body is with brain function. Numerous studies indicate that DHA through diet and dietary supplements can enhance brain function in children2 and adults.3 DHA is also important to mental health and can help prevent and/or treat depression and anxiety.4 There is also general consensus that DHA is absolutely critical to the brain, immune and cardiovascular health in infants and young children.5 DHA is a powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient that has been shown to help control cholesterol and enhance overall heart health.6
It becomes very obvious as to why this is so important. The health implications of worldwide DHA deficiencies could be devastating. According to the authors of this new paper, “Ample evidence points to the health benefits accrued to humans when adequate amounts of DHA are available in the diet, especially for fetal and infant neurodevelopment.”7 They go on to say that even if there is an aggressive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, we will still likely have a 10% (8.2% to 11%) global decline in DHA from wild caught, farmed, and freshwater fish. If nothing is done to curtail global warming, the researchers estimate that by 2100 there will be a 58% (52% to 68%) reduction of DHA in the food supply. As you can see, this “business as usual” mentality could have dramatic effects on the amount of DHA available to people worldwide through the food supply. This trend will be especially dangerous for infants, as well as elderly who are trying to protect brain function as they age. In fact, research shows that DHA can play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and help protect brain function in individuals with early stage dementia.8,9
We know that global warming is negatively impacting our environment and will negatively impact food quantity. This latest paper adds to the growing body of evidence indicating that global warming could dramatically harm food quality. DHA can now be added to the growing list of nutrient deficiencies that could occur if we don’t take proactive steps to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This begs the question: which vital nutrient will be next?
Those of us involved in the integrative health field believe in a comprehensive approach to wellness. I would argue that this approach should include protecting the environment in which we live in and the quality of food that is produced. Without nutrient dense food, our integrative approach goes south pretty quickly!
- Gazella KA. Climate change and food quality: how a changing climate impacts the nutritional value of food. Natural Medicine Journal. 2019;11(8).
- Kuratko CN, Barrett E, Nelson EB, Norman Jr S. The relationship of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with learning and behavior in healthy children: a review. Nutrients. 2013;5(7):2777-2810.
- Yurko-Mauro K, Alexander DD, Van Elswyk ME. Docosahexaenoic acid and adult memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2015; 10(3).
- Larrieu T, Laye S. Food for mood: relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety. Frontiers in Physiology. 2018;9:1047.
- Forsyth S, Gautier S, Salem N. The importance of dietary DHA and ARA in early life: a public health perspective. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2017;76:568-573.
- Allaire J, Couture P, Leclerc M, et al. A randozmized, crossover, head-to-head comparison of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation to reduce inflammation markers in men and women: comparing EPA to DHA (ComparED) study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;104(2):280-7.
- Colombo SM, Rodgers T, Diamond ML, et al. Projected declines in global DHA availability for human consumption as a result of global warming. Ambio. 2019;September 12.
- Yassine HN, Braskie MN, Mack WJ. Association of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation with Alzheimer disease stage in apolipoprotein E ε4 carriers: a review. JAMA Neurology. 2017;74(3):339-347.
- Ajith TA. A recent update on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in Alzheimer’s disease. Current Clinical Pharmacology. 2018;13(4):252-260.