Introducing DHA and AA to young infants and the whole family
- DHA and AA are fatty acids that are important for health. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid important for brain and eye development in infants1,2,3,4 and for brain, eye and heart health throughout the lifecycle. AA is the principal omega-6 fatty acid in the brain, representing about 48 percent of the omega-6 fats in the brain.5 It is also abundant in other cells throughout the body. Like DHA, AA is important for proper brain development in infants. It is also a precursor to a group of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that play a role in immunity, blood clotting and other vital functions in the body.
- Both DHA and AA are important for a baby’s healthy development, especially in the last three months of pregnancy and the first 18 months of life.1, 2,3 During this time, the brain, eyes and nervous system are growing and developing at a dramatic rate, unlike any other time in the human lifecycle.
- Both DHA and AA are found naturally in breast milk, but ,while most women receive adequate AA in their diets, DHA levels may drop during breastfeeding if mothers do not receive enough DHA in their diet. There are proven benefits in DHA supplementation for both pregnant women and nursing mothers. If you are worried you’re not supplementing your DHA levels through your normal diet, speak to your doctor about the alternatives.
- Infants continue to benefit from having adequate DHA and AA in their diet after they have been weaned. Infants who are weaned onto formula supplemented with DHA and AA demonstrate more acute vision than babies weaned onto non-supplemented formula.6,7,8
Some research suggests that there are proven health benefits for infants who are given DHA supplementation once they begin eating solids. Certain studies (some, but not all) have shown that young children who receive DHA supplementation exhibit a range of advantages over those who did not receive DHA supplementation, including improved vision. One study showed that older children with high cholesterol levels who supplemented with DHA experienced improved blood vessel function.
Current UK recommendations are that adults should consume 0.2g of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids a day,9 It is important that the diets of young children include adequate amounts of DHA to support brain, eye and nervous system growth and development. Yet, most Western children consume an average of only 30 to 50mg of DHA per day.
- DHA is important for brain, eye and heart health throughout life. In fact, a growing body of research continues to support the role that DHA plays throughout adulthood, including:
- DHA is necessary for the development and maintenance of optimal structure and function of nerve cells in the brain and eyes.
- DHA plays a significant role in the maintenance of normal neurological function.
- Preliminary research suggests DHA plays an important role in maintaining healthy mental function.
- DHA is the only fatty acid which has been associated with a decreased risk of mental decline associated with aging.
- One of the best dietary sources of DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. These fish cannot produce DHA themselves but obtain it from algae in their diet. There is, therefore, a significant difference between DHA levels in farmed and wild fish. The best dietary sources of AA are fish, meat, eggs and milk.
- Linseed and flaxseed oils, two commonly sited sources of omega-3 fatty acids, contain ALNA (alpha linolenic acid), which can be converted into DHA in the body. However, the conversion process is very inefficient, so ALNA is not an ideal source to provide the body DHA.
- For non-fish eaters, microalgae supplements are a vegetarian source rich in DHA and a useful way of increasing DHA omega-3 intake. Further information on sources of omega-3 fatty acids is available from the British Nutrition Foundation’s website, http://www.nutrition.org.uk
- Fortified foods containing microalgae are becoming increasingly available. One of the most widely used is life’sDHA™, a vegetarian source of DHA from microalgae. And because it is not from fish, there is no risk of ocean-borne pollutants.
1 Martinez, M. Tissue levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids during early human development. Pediatrics,1992.120:S129-38
2 Salem, Jr. N, et al. Mechanisms of action of docosahexaenoic acid in the nervous system. Lipids, 2001. 36:945-59
3 Crawford, MA. The role of essential fatty acids in neural development: implications for perinatal nutrition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1993. 57:703S-709S
4 Makrides M, et al. Are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids essential nutrients in infancy? Lancet, 1995. 345 (8963):1463-8
5 Lauritzen L, et al. The essentiality of long chain n-3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Progress in Lipid Research, 2001.40:1-94.
6 Birch EE, et al. Visual acuity and the essentiality of docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid in the diet of term infants. Pediatric Research, 1998. 44(2):201-9
7 Birch EE, et al. Visual maturation of term infants fed long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented or control formula for 12 mo. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005. 81:871-9
8 Morale SE, et al. Duration of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids availability in the diet and visual acuity. Early Human Development, 2004. 81(2):197-203
9 Advice on fish consumption. http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/fishreport200402.pdf (Viewed on 07.02.07)