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Long chain fatty acids for better brain development

Posted:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Every parent wants the best for their children, here’s another! Now it is possible to encourage better brain development by ensuring adequate long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake in infants and young children. The main two long chain fatty acids are docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).

Breast milk, the gold standard nutrition during infancy, contains 0.3% DHA and 0.5% AA in addition to 0.4% vaccenic acid and 0.5% nervonic acid (percentage of total fats). However, the level of DHA in breast milk is influenced by the mother’s diet.

DHA is essential for the development of the central nervous system and is deposited in the brain during late pregnancy and infancy until the age of two. However, the benefits of DHA after infancy have not been established due to lack of long-term studies and difficulty is assessing brain development in children.

Likewise, AA is deposited in the brain during early pregnancy and is involved in the development of nervous structures, linings of organs and placenta. Its metabolic derivatives take part in blood flow, platelet adhesion, immunity and reproduction. Vaccenic acid, a naturally occurring long chain fatty acid alongwith DHA protects children from developing allergies whereas nervonic acid helps in nervous system development.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that "There can be little doubt about the essentiality of DHA and AA for the brain".

Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested that infant formulas and formulas used for complementary feeding should contain DHA. However, the authority does not advocate addition of AA to infant formula.

The EFSA also recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume additional 3-4 servings of seafood per week and hike their DHA intake by 100-200 mg daily.

Infants (6-24 months) require 100 mg DHA and children (2-18 years) 250 mg DHA daily.

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