October 21, 2002
Research Shows DHA Integral for Infant Growth, Development
STORRS, Conn.--Maternal plasma levels ofdocosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may lend insight into the developing fetal centralnervous system, according to research in the September issue of the AmericanJournal of Clinical Nutrition (76, 3:608-13, 2002) (www.ajcn.org).Researchers from the University of Connecticut measured plasma phospholipidfatty acid concentrations in 17 women during childbirth. On postpartum day 1 andday 2, the infants' body movements and respiratory patterns were measured toassess sleep and wake states, which provided a tool for assessing the functionalintegrity of each infant's central nervous system.The women were divided into two groups: high-DHA (greater than 3percent by weight of total fatty acids) and low-DHA (less than 3 percent byweight of total fatty acids). Infants of high-DHA mothers had a significantlylower ratio of active sleep to quiet sleep than infants of low-DHA mothers. Inaddition, high-DHA infants had less sleep-wake transition and more wakefulnesson postpartum day 2. Researchers concluded that sleep patterns of infants bornto mothers with higher plasma phospholipid DHA suggest greater central nervoussystem maturity.In related news, researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universityof Munich in Germany determined that long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA)--suchas DHA and arachidonic acid (AA)--are essential during pregnancy, lactation andearly childhood to ensure growth and development. In their research review (AnnN Y Acad Sci, 967:299-310, 2002), investigators noted that breast milkprovides preformed LC-PUFAs, and breast-fed infants have higher LC-PUFA levelsin plasma and tissue phospholipids than infants fed conventional formulas. Inmost of the clinical trials researchers uncovered, pre-term and healthyfull-term infants benefited from formulas supplemented with DHA and AA--theyshowed enhanced development of visual acuity up to 1 year of age and of complexneural and cognitive functions. Researchers concluded, "LC-PUFA areconditionally essential substrates during early life that are related to thequality of growth and development."
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