Introducing DHA and AA to young infants and the whole family
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. It is a major structural fat in the brain and retina of the eye accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain and up to 93 percent of the omega-3 fats in the retina. It is also a key component of the heart. 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. It is also a precursor to a group of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids.
Both DHA and AA are accumulated in infant tissues during the last three months of pregnancy and the first few years 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. 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. If you are concerned you are not getting enough DHA through your normal diet, ask your doctor about alternative ways to increase your intake of DHA.
Current EU recommendations are that adults should consume 250mg of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids a day.9 New Pregnant and nursing women are to consume an additional 100-200 mg of DHA a day in addition to the 250 mg EPA+DHA for cardiovascular health for a total of up to 450 mg DHA/day. It is also important that the diets of young children include adequate amounts of DHA to support growth and development, 100 mg DHA/day for children 6-24 months is recommended.
- Microalgae supplements provide a vegetarian source rich in DHA. Most people believe that fish produce their own DHA, when in fact, it’s the algae they consume that makes them a rich source of DHA. Foods fortified with life’sDHA, a vegetarian source of DHA from microalgae are also becoming increasing available making it easy to increase your DHA intake.
- One of the best dietary sources of DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Linseed and flaxseed oils, two commonly cited sources of omega-3 fatty acids, contain ALA (alpha linolenic acid), which can be converted into DHA in the body. However, the conversion process is very inefficient, so ALA is not an ideal source to provide the body DHA.
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)