April 21, 2018

The importance of DHA

DHA has been well researched and is very critical for the development of the fetus as well as the first couple years of a child’s life (and throughout adulthood!).  The body, especially the brain, is growing rapidly during this time and this nutrient is essential!   The compilation of research about DHA listed below is from the Society for Women’s Health Research.  This website is a great resource for women’s health issues.  Be sure to read through their bullet points!

Importance of DHA in Infant Development

Copyright 2007 Society for Women’s Health Research

Docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, is a long chain omega-3 fatty acid that is found throughout the body. More specifically, DHA is an important structural fat in the brain and eyes and is a key component of the heart. DHA, a natural component of breast milk, is important for brain and eye development and function. Below are research highlights from studies examining the role of DHA in infant health and development. (Please refer to the list of references.)

>> DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and the retina of the eye, representing about 97% and 93% of all omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and eyes, respectively, and is important for healthy visual and mental development throughout infancy.1-4
>> The brain grows rapidly during the last months of gestation and throughout the first years of life. This growth spurt is a time of rapid DHA accumulation in the brain. 5-7
>> An infant’s ability to produce DHA may be inconsistent and inefficient. Infant blood DHA levels decrease significantly
following birth unless the infant receives DHA either through breast milk or supplemented infant formula. 8-15
>> Breast milk is the optimal method for infant feeding. Breast milk always contains the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, DHA and arachidonic acid (ARA*).16 Recommendations have been made by several expert groups for infant formulas containing DHA and ARA.17-22
>> Infants rapidly accumulate DHA from their mother during the last months of gestation. Infants born prematurely do not have time to accumulate DHA to the same level as their full-term counterparts. When fed formula supplemented with DHA and ARA, preterm infants achieved normal growth in terms of weight, length and head circumference,23-26 and showed improved visual and mental development compared to the infants fed formula not supplemented with DHA and ARA.26
>> Many studies have demonstrated improved mental development for infants fed DHA- and ARA-supplemented formula compared to those receiving unsupplemented formula. These benefits extend well beyond the period of supplementation and continue into childhood. 27-29
>> Term infants fed DHA(0.36%)- and ARA (0.72%)- supplemented formula scored 7 points higher on the Bayley Mental Development Index at 18 months than those fed unsupplemented formula.27 In a follow-up study of those same children at age 4, visual acuity and verbal IQ scores were higher in those children who had received supplemented formula compared with those who received formula lacking DHA and ARA. 29
>> Infants who were breastfed and then weaned to formula supplemented with DHA and ARA demonstrated more mature visual acuity than those breast-fed infants weaned to non-supplemented formula.30-31
>> Infants fed DHA-supplemented formula exhibited better visual acuity than that of the non-supplemented infants (equivalent to 1.5 lines on the eye chart), and similar to that of breast-fed infants.32-34
>> One study showed that infants fed formula supplemented with DHA (0.36%) and ARA (0.72%) had fewer episodes of bronchiolitis and bronchitis at age 5, 7, and 9 months compared to infants fed non-supplemented formula.35
>> Infants fed formula supplemented with DHA and ARA had significantly lower blood pressure compared to infants fed
non-supplemented formula, similar to that of breast-fed infants. Because blood pressure tends to track from childhood into adult life, it has been suggested that early intake of DHA and ARA may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.36

References: Importance of DHA in Infant Development

  1. Martinez M. Tissue levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids during early human development. Pediatr, 1992.120:S129-38.
  2. Lauritzen L, et al. The essentiality of long chain n-3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Prog Lipid Res, 2001. 40:1-94.
  3. Salem, N Jr, et al. Mechanisms of action of docosahexaenoic acid in the nervous system. Lipids, 2001. 36:945-59.
  4. Crawford MA. The role of essential fatty acids in neural development: implications for perinatal nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr, 1993. 57:703S-709S.
  5. Dobbing J and Sands J. 1973. Quantitative growth and development of the human brain. Arch Dis Child 48:757-67.
  6. Dutta-Roy AK. Transport mechanisms for long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the human placenta. Am J Clin Nutr, 2000. 71:315S-22S.
  7. Clandinin MT, et al. Intrauterine fatty acid accretion rates in human brain: implications for fatty acid requirements. Early Hum Dev, 1980. 4:121-9.
  8. Makrides M, et al. Are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids essential nutrients in infancy? Lancet, 1995. 345 (8963):1463-8.
  9. Carlson SE, et al. Visual acuity and fatty acid status of term infants fed human milk and formulas with or without docosahexaenoate and arachidonate from egg yolk lecithin. Pediatr Res, 1996. 39:882-8.
  10. Innis SM, et al. Blood lipid docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid in term gestation infants fed formulas with high docosahexaenoic acid, low eicosapentaenoic acid fish oil. Lipids, 1996. 31:617-25.
  11. Kohn G, et al. Diet and essential fatty acid status of term infants. Acta Paediatr Suppl, 1994. 402:69-74.
  12. Makrides M, et al. Fatty acid composition of brain, retina, and erythrocytes in breast-fed and formula-fed infants. Am J Clin Nutr, 1994. 60(2):189-94.
  13. Agostoni C, et al. Neurodevelopmental quotient of healthy term infants at 4 months and feeding practice: the role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Pediatr Res, 1995. 38(2):262-6.
  14. Decsi T and Koletzko B. Growth, fatty acid composition of plasma lipid classes, and plasma retinol and alpha-tocopherol concentration in full-term infants fed formula enriched with omega-6 and omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Acta Paediatr, 1995. 84(7):725-32.
  15. Hoffman DR, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid in red blood cells of term infants receiving two levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006;42:287-292.
  16. Yuhas R, et al. Human milk fatty acid composition from nine countries varies most in DHA. Lipids 2006;41:851-8.
  17. Simopoulos AP, et al. Workshop on the essentiality of and recommended dietary intakes for omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. J Am Coll Nutr, 1999. 18(5): 487-9.
  18. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Lipids in early development. In: fats and Oils. Food and Nutrition Paper ISBN 92-5-103621-7 Chap. 7, pp. 49-55, 1993. http://www.fao.org/docrep/V4700E/V4700E00.htm
  19. Koletzko B, et al. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) and perinatal development. Acta Paediatr, 2001. 90(4):460-4.
  20. Koletzko B, et al. Global standard for the composition of infant formula: recommendations of an ESPGHAN coordinated international expert group. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2005;41:584-99.
  21. The Commission of the European Communities. Commission Directive 2006/141/EC of 22 December 2006 on infant formulae and follow-on formulae and amending Directive 1999/21/EC. Off J EU, Dec. 30, 2006:L401/1-33.
  22. Aggett PJ, et al. Feeding preterm infants after hospital discharge: a commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006;42:596-603.
  23. O’Connor DL, et al. Growth and development in preterm infants fed long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a prospective, randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 2001. 108(2):359-71.
  24. Vanderhoof J, et al. Evaluation of a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplemented formula on growth, tolerance, and plasma lipids in preterm infants up to 48 weeks postconceptual age. J Pediatr Gastroenterol, 1999. 29:318-26.
  25. Vanderhoof J, et al.for The Multicenter Study Group. A multicenter long-term safety and efficacy trial of preterm formula supplemented with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, 2000. 31(2):121-7.
  26. Clandinin MT, et al. Growth and development of preterm infants fed infant formulas containing docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. J Pediatr 2005;146:461-8.
  27. Birch EE, et al. A randomized controlled trial of early dietary supply of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and mental development in term infants. Dev Med Child Neurol, 2000. 42(3):174-81.
  28. Willatts P, et al. Effect of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in infant formula on problem solving at 10 months of age. Lancet, 1998. 352(9129):688-91.
  29. Birch EE, et al. Visual acuity and cognitive outcomes at 4 years of age in a double-blind, randomized trial of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented infant formula. Early Hum Dev 2007 (Epub).
  30. Hoffman DR, et al. Visual function in breast-fed term infants weaned to formula with or without long-chain polyunsaturates at 4 to 6 months: a randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr, 2003. 142: 669-77.
  31. Birch EE, et al. A randomized controlled trial of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation of formula in term infants after weaning at 6 weeks of age. Am J Clin Nutr, 2002. 75:570-80.
  32. Birch EE, et al. Visual acuity and the essentiality of docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid in the diet of term infants. Pediatr Res, 1998. 44(2):201-9.
  33. Birch EE, et al. Visual maturation of term infants fed long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented or control formula for 12 mo. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 81:871-9.
  34. Morale SE, et al. Duration of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids availability in the diet and visual acuity. Early Hum Dev, 2005. 81(2):197-203.
  35. Pastor N, et al. Infants fed docosahexaenoic acid- and arachidonic acid-supplemented formula have decreased incidence of bronchiolitis/bronchitis the first year of life. Clin Pediatr (Phila), 2006. 45(9):850-5.
  36. Forsyth JS, et al. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in infant formula and blood pressure in later childhood: follow up of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 2003. 326(7396):953.

Copyright 2007 Society for Women’s Health Research

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