The importance of DHA intake in the first year of life of a baby cannot be overstated.
The long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are essential for pre-and post-natal neural development.
Concentrated in the brain and retina (1,2) are essential fatty acids. DHA, along with other LCPUFAs, is responsible for membrane fluidity and also functions as anti-inflammatory mediator (3).
Babies must be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and breastfeeding must continue along with age-appropriate complementary foods. Human milk contains DHA, depending on the maternal dietary status. However in the case breastfeeding is not possible it is essential to include DHA in the diet of infants, as it has been known to influence early cognitive development (1). Importance of DHA intake cannot be over stated
Can DHA in infant formula help with the neurodevelopment of babies?
Whenever breastfeeding is not possible, babies must be fed with an infant formula that contains sufficient amounts of DHA. Adding DHA in infant formulas, with accurate quality and quantity, is safe and will assist formula-fed infants in achieving a similar blood DHA status as that of the breastfed infant (3).
In checking out the importance of DHA intake in a baby, there have been numerous efforts to understand the role and possible benefits of this crucial brain supportive nutrient in the early days of life. Studies show DHA plays a role in key neurodevelopmental processes like myelination and synaptogenesis and helps in vision maturation(4)
Lasting effects of DHA consumed in early life:
A study was done to determine whether supplementation of DHA during the first year of life affects brain function, structure, and metabolism at a later age. This was a follow-up to an earlier study that evaluated the beneficial effects of DHA on the visual, autonomic system and attention development in the first year of life.
Infants were randomly assigned to receive formulas with no LCPUFA and formulas with LCPUFA variable concentrations (0.32%, 0.64%, or 0.96% of total fatty acids) of DHA in the first year of life.
Immediately they were followed up for several years to determine whether DHA supplementation in infancy can lead to clinically significant benefits in later life (5).
The benefits of DHA supplementation in infancy, as evaluated at nine years of age are, (5);
- 0.32% and 0.64% DHA infant formula groups had elevated white matter volume in anterior
cingulate cortex (ACC) and parietal regions compared to control and 0.96% group.
- Higher N‐acetyl aspartate (NAA) and myo‐inositol (mI) in LCPUFA (particularly DHA) groups compared to the control group.
- Adding LCPUFAs to diet in the early days of life have lasting effects on brain structure, function, and neurochemical concentrations in regions associated with attention (parietal) and inhibition (ACC), along with neurochemicals linked with neuronal integrity (NAA) and brain cell signaling.
- Attention and inhibition systems are susceptible to early life DHA insufficiency.
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In conclusion, DHA supplementation during infancy positively influences neurodevelopment of the infant and has long-lasting benefits – importance of DHA in a baby
- Colombo J, Carlson SE, Cheatham CL, Shaddy DJ, Kerling EH, Thodosoff JM, Gustafson KM, Brez C. Long-term effects of LCPUFA supplementation on childhood cognitive outcomes. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2013 Aug 1;98(2):403-12.
- Schwartz J, Dube K, Alexy U, Kalhoff H, Kersting M. PUFA and LC-PUFA intake during the first year of life: can dietary practice achieve a guideline diet? European journal of clinical nutrition. 2010 Feb;64(2):124-30.
- Janssen CI, Kiliaan AJ. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) from genesis to senescence: the influence of LCPUFA on neural development, aging, and neurodegeneration. Progress in lipid research. 2014 Jan 1;53:1-7.
- Gil A, Ramirez M, Gil M. Role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in infant nutrition. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2003 Sep;57(1):S31-4.
- Lepping RJ, Honea RA, Martin LE, et al. Long‐chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in the first year of life affects brain function, structure, and metabolism at age nine years. Developmental Psychobiology. 2018;00:1–12.
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