This sounds crazy – DNA is the basis of life, while DHA is just the “healthy fat in fish.” But evolution often surprises. 11/19/2020
I’ve been the editorial director at Vital Choice for eight months now, but I’ve been writing about nutrition for close to 30 years, including more than a decade as a contributing editor for Discover magazine.
In that time, I’ve seldom read anything that really shook the foundations of what I thought I knew.
Then I encountered the work of Michael Crawford.
Crawford’s title is Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, Imperial College, London, U.K., but the fact is, he’s the Einstein of paleo-nutrition.
His seminal paper, published in 2012, is “A quantum theory for the irreplaceable role of docosahexaenoic acid in neural cell signaling throughout evolution.”
It’s a rare paper that links seafood fatty acids with quantum mechanics. But Crawford, ever the intellectual fisherman, throws a very wide net. I could spend days deconstructing this work, but I want to focus on just one astounding fact that’s right at the center of this paper.
That is that docosahexaenoic acid, the fatty acid in seafood that’s usually known as DHA, is more important in human and animal physiology than is deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Given that DNA makes the proteins that make the many specialized cells comprising fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and humans, that’s a huge claim.
Another way to express “more important” might be “upstream” or “in charge.” Crawford’s point is that DNA, which makes all the various proteins in the body – the cellular building blocks of life itself - has from the primordial beginning of complex animal and human life “taken its orders” from the fatty acid DHA.
Here’s the heart of Crawford’s paper:
…over 600 million years animal genomes underwent countless mutations with enormous variation in protein composition and structures. We suggest that DHA…[is] the master of DNA since the beginning of animal evolution. Proteins are selected to function with the constancy of DHA: it was the ‘‘selfish DHA’’ not DNA that ruled the evolution of vision and the brain.
In other words, once evolution arrived at DHA 600 million years ago, the molecule proved so powerfully useful that it ran the show from then on, and it never changed as all proteins around it evolved endlessly to better suit its needs.
That’s why DHA has been conserved in living organisms since the dawn of the Cambrian explosion, which filled the planet with multi-celled creatures.
Proteins Created to Support DHA
This raises the obvious question: what’s so astoundingly vital about DHA that makes it the fundamental, unchangeable molecule of intelligent life?
Crawford’s work asserts that DHA is nothing less than a natural semiconductor, with a unique ability to accurately and coherently transmit signals via quantum mechanical processes.
That’s why it is concentrated in the eyes and brain. Each is essentially a signal processor. For the eyes, the signal is more or less direct. For the brain, it is modulated, as a semiconductor modulates an electrical signal to compute and store memory.
This means as you read, understand, and remember this article, it’s no exaggeration to say DHA is the primary framework that supports that reading, understanding, and remembering.
(Whether DHA “generates” consciousness is a far deeper question we must leave alone here, but it at least seems to support the mind’s conscious activities. The waters here begin to run very deep.)
Crawford, the careful scientist, avoids philosophical speculation and keeps his claim simple and direct: “The unique molecular structure of DHA allows for … the cohesive, organised neural signaling which characterises higher intelligence.”
In his groundbreaking paper, Crawford puts forth the quantum mechanical process that he believes underlies DHA signaling. I’ll discuss that in a future article.
Honor Your DHA
I will leave with a bit of practical advice.
DHA is absolutely essential to “build” brain and eyes, which in turn determine the building of a human being, which is why it’s so vital for pregnant and nursing women to eat seafood. (The only other source of abundant DHA is animal brains – because what little DHA exists apart from the sea goes directly to the brains of land animals, including those of humans.)
But DHA, that fundamental molecule, is also fairly easily oxidized, so the body discards it and needs an ongoing fresh supply to function optimally.
So when you eat DHA-rich seafood – and salmon is a particularly good source – you are doing more than “eating healthy” though you are undoubtedly doing that.
You are doing more than lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive and emotional dysfunction, though research shows you are undoubtedly doing that as well.
But fundamentally, you are doing nothing less than renewing the molecule at the precise center of what it means to be a human being.
Astarita, G., Jung, K., Berchtold, N. C., Nguyen, V. Q., Gillen, D. L., Head, E., . . . Piomelli, D. (2010). Deficient Liver Biosynthesis of Docosahexaenoic Acid Correlates with Cognitive Impairment in Alzheimer's Disease. PLoS ONE,5(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012538
Mohajeri, M. H., Troesch, B., & Weber, P. (2015). Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: Implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition, 31(2), 261-275. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.06.016