Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) such as DHA have been shown to serve as important cell membrane components, as well as precursors for an extensive network of biologic mediators with many effects in the body.
DHA is used in formula to boost synapse formation and to diminish the negative effects of prematurity on cognitive development.
DHA benefits brain development that clinically shown to support the achievement of intellectual, motor, emotional and communication milestones. It also supports gut health as clinically shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhea in infants compared to standard formula.
Aspects of DHA related to brain
- DHA is an important structural component of cells in the central nervous system and incorporates into neural tissues from the third trimester of pregnancy up to 18 years of age. This period corresponds with significant changes in brain structures and advances in neurocognitive development,.
DHA plays a role in brain development and function through several potential mechanisms. From animal and cell models, it appears that DHA:
- Is enriched in neuronal synaptic and excitable membranes where signal transmission takes place,
- Enhances neurite outgrowth and branching,,. Neurites are projections from the cell body of immature neurons, which eventually mature into axons and dendrites
- Plays a role in synaptogenesis,. Synaptogenesis is a process which involves the formation of synapses, the structures that permit signaling between nerve cells.
- Plays a role in synaptic transmission in the brain hippocampus and long term potentiation,,. Long term potentiation is a long-lasting strengthening of a synaptic link, thought to contribute to the synaptic basis of learning and memory.
Clinical studies in infants have demonstrated the importance of DHA in neurocognitive development by comparing infant formula with recommended levels of DHA to infant formula lacking DHA, fed up to 4 – 12 months of age. Formulas with 0.32% DHA and 0.64% ARA of total fatty acids have been clinically proven to improve sustained attention, problem solving, visual acuity, mental development index, and long-term improvements in cognitive development, executive function and verbal IQ,,,,,.
Aspects of DHA related to immunity
DHA is believed to play a role in immunity through the inhibition and/or resolution of inflammation.
DHA can inhibit pro-inflammatory signaling,, and metabolites of DHA, including resolvins, protectins and endocannabinoids, have anti-inflammatory and/or inflammation-resolving activity,.
DHA may play a role in immunity by helping to support protection against common pediatric conditions including respiratory infections and symptoms, diarrhea requiring medical attention, and allergy,,.
- Increasing research is highlighting the role of LCPUFA, especially n-3 LCPUFA, as immunomodulatory nutrients with the potential to improve respiratory health early in life. A recent review on the impact of dietary LCPUFA on respiratory illness in infants and children reported the beneficial effects of omega-3 LCPUFA supply on respiratory outcomes, including reductions in asthma and other allergy manifestations.