DHA stands for docosahexaneoic acid, and is a component of omega-3 fats found in breastmilk, and from dietary sources such as fish and marine algae. But did you know that DHA makes up part of our brain? DHA makes up about 80% of the brain’s grey matter and is needed on a basic level for normal brain function. But on top of this, DHA is involved in how well the brain works, for example, high DHA intake has been directly associated with improved visual acuity and cognitive function in infants and toddlers .
For babies, DHA is needed in high amounts for brain and eye development; in fact, DHA requirements during infancy are higher than any other stages of life. Lactating mothers who supplement with omega-3 fish oil, are likely to have higher levels of DHA in breastmilk compared to mothers with low omega-3 intake.
- Carlson, et al. Adv Pediatr. 2016 Aug; 63(1): 453-471
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fat naturally present in breastmilk and found in dietary sources such as fish, nuts and seeds. For babies, EPA is an important fat for the immune system as well as for helping to maintain healthy blood vessels. While arachidonic acid (ARA) is naturally inflammatory (in a good way), EPA is the exact opposite. Maintaining good levels of EPA helps the body to control inflammation, creating an environment where the body can choose how to react (e.g. with or without an inflammatory response).
During breastfeeding, baby receives EPA from mother’s breastmilk, however once weaning has finished, dietary sources become the only intake of EPA. A study of toddlers aged 1-5 years found that intake of EPA and DHA was only 30% of the recommended amount [1, 2]. Not surprising considering how fussy toddlers can become at mealtime! As EPA and DHA are such critical nutrients during infancy and childhood, we include both fatty acids in our toddler formula.
- Thompson et al. Nutrients. 2019 Jan; 11(1): 177
Arachidonic acid (ARA) is a type of omega-6 fatty acid found in breastmilk. It’s also found in certain foods that baby may start to consume in small amounts when they begin weaning (after 6 months of age). ARA is important for infant development because it is needed for synaptic activity in the brain. A synapse is a structure in the brain that permits a neuron to pass a signal to another neuron – it is the brain’s messaging system telling us how to use our body.
During their first year, a baby’s brain is busy making new connections, and nutrients like ARA and DHA are needed to support the rapid growth and development. In fact, your baby’s brain will have doubled in size by the time they reach their first birthday! But ARA is used for more than just brain development. It is also used to form baby’s blood vessels, for bone growth and it plays a role in the development and function of the immune system.