Docosahexaenoic Acid Frequently Asked Questions
- A WHO committee recommends including DHA in formula. An expert committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that all pre-term and term infant formulas contain DHA at levels found in breast milk. The British Nutrition Foundation and the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition have made similar recommendations. DHA is already in some European and Asian formulas.
- DHA is the most abundant structural fat in the brain and retina. Brain tissue is about 60% lipid (structural fat, not adipose fat) and about 25% of that is DHA. DHA also comprises about 60% of the rod outer segments of the retina of the eye. Brain and other nervous tissues are unique in this high DHA content.
- DHA is in breast milk. DHA is an important component of breast milk. U.S. infant formulas do not currently contain DHA. Women should breast-feed as long as possible to ensure that their babies get an adequate supply. Women also should review their diets to ensure that their breast milk contains enough of this nutrient. Dietary trends indicate that DHA intake in the U.S. has declined by about 50% over the last 50 years.
- DHA is essential for brain and eye development. The rate of brain growth in the perinatal period is so rapid that the baby's capacity to synthesize DHA from an essential fatty acid precursor (linolenic acid) present in some vegetable oils is insufficient to keep up with the demand by the growing brain and nervous system. Independent studies have shown that unless pre-formed DHA is provided to infants, their brain DHA levels are subnormal compared to breast-fed babies.
- DHA is correlated with improved mental and visual function in infants. Studies show that children who were breast-fed perform better on cognitive function tests later in life (by 5-9 IQ points) than those who were formula-fed even after taking into account all confounding factors associated with developmental test performance (e.g., socio-economic status, IQ of parents, etc.). A greater developmental disparity has been established for low-weight pre-term infants born without the benefit of the maternal delivery of DHA during the last trimester. They experience deficits of up to 20 IQ points compared to term infants and are at greater risk for behavioral problems. Evidence points to DHA as the reason.
- Low DHA levels are associated with behavior problems in children. Specific behavioral (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD) and learning problems have been shown to correlate significantly with low DHA levels. Research is under way to determine whether there is a connection.
- Several major infant formula manufacturers, including Wyeth-Ayerst (American Home Products), Mead Johnson Nutritional Group (Bristol-Myers Squibb), Nutricia NV, Sandoz, and Maabarot Products have licensed the Formulaid technology from Martek. Infant formulas containing Formulaid are now available in Europe.
What is the difference between DHA and DHEA?
They are completely different substances. DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands located just above the kidneys.