Optimum Nutrition for the Developing Brain

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Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) including Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Arachidonic acid (ARA), are key building blocks in the brain and should be a part of diet throughout infancy and later childhood. High levels of DHA concentrated in the brain cortex promote synthesis of synaptic membranes and increase the quantity of dendritic spines. In infants, there is a rapid uptake of DHA in the frontal cortex, which influences problem solving and control of attention.

2 min read

Peter Willatts PhD


A study by Judge et al showed that mothers who consumed cereal bars supplemented with DHA from 24 weeks gestation until delivery had infants with improved problem solving skills at 9 months compared to controls. Two randomized clinical trials also showed that infants who were given formula supplemented with DHA and ARA had significantly improved problem solving at nine months.

Accumulating evidence shows that early development of the prefrontal cortex and advancement of executive functions such as planning, working memory, and attention control are influenced by LCPUFAs, especially DHA. A randomized study of infants given DHA/ARA supplemented versus control formula for 4 months showed faster information processing for those given supplemented formula when tested at 6 years of age. Children provided maternal DHA in breastfeeding also showed improved sustained attention, while long-term improvement in attention switching ability was shown in the DIAMOND trial. Lower levels of plasma omega-3 fatty acid levels have been seen in children with ADHD and supplementation with omega-3 LCPUFAs may offer modest symptom improvement.

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