DHA contributes to the brain and visual development of infants


DHA is a structural constituent of cell membranes; although it is present in other tissues (for example, it is also found in high concentrations in the visual system), its concentrations in the central nervous system are unique in terms of its high levels. DHA accumulation in the fetal brain takes place mainly during the last trimester of pregnancy and continues at very high rates up to the end of the second year of life. During gestation, the DHA incorporation to the brain and other tissues (such as retina) depends on maternal transfer; after birth, it has been shown to depend on diet: breastfeeding in infants (DHA content of mother’s milk is directly dependent on the mother’s diet), and later mainly from fish intake. Once high levels of DHA are achieved in the brain, they are maintained throughout life, and this presumably also depends on dietary supply, since DHA production within the organism seems to be relatively low and dietary intake of DHA from fish in adults is determinant on DHA levels.

Data indicate that DHA may have effects on the brain in infancy and that inadequate DHA intake during gestation may negatively affect infant development. Data from cell and animal studies justify the importance of DHA in relation to brain development and function. Data on the effect of DHA supplementation on cognition during childhood are controversial, with studies reporting no effects and studies suggesting an improvement in verbal learning and memory. But there is a field in which there is not disagreement: there is clear evidence that DHA contributes to the visual system development of infants (which could be related with cognitive development), and this effect seems to be explained solely by DHA.

When DHA is needed in large amounts, such as during the growth and maturation of an infant’s brain and visual system, it needs to be consumed via external sources. The adequate supply of DHA to the fetus and the infants is largely dependent on the dietary intake of the mother, and this supply is very important to the cognitive development of the child.

Key words: brain, DHA, visual system.


Lauritzen L, Brambilla P, Mazzocchi A, et al. DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function. Nutrients. 2016 Jan; 8(1): 6.

European Food Safety Authority. The Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies on a request from Mead Johnson Nutritionals. Scientific opinion on DHA and ARA and visual development. EFSA J. 2009;941:1-14.



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