COPENHAGEN, DENMARK. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a major component of fish oil, are accumulated in the brain of the fetus and infant during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life. DHA, in particular, has been found to be important for the development of the infant’s central nervous system and visual acuity. Although infants can, to a limited extent, convert alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA, by far the majority of the infant’s need for DHA must be met through mother’s milk or fortified infant formula. Danish researchers suggest that the transfer of fatty acid DHA from mother to infant via breast milk may significantly deplete the DHA status of the mother.
Their study involved 12 mother/infant pairs who were enrolled within 30 days of birth. The study participants (both mothers and infants) provided blood samples 1, 2, and 4 months after delivery and mothers also provided samples of breast milk. The researchers found that the fatty acid DHA content of the mothers’ red blood cells decreased significantly over the 4-month period, while that of the infants increased. It is not clear whether this is due to preferential transfer of DHA, or to differences in the metabolism and utilization of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Jorgensen, MH, et al. The composition of polyunsaturated fatty acids in erythrocytes of lactating mothers and their infants. Maternal and Child Nutrition, Vol. 2, 2006, pp. 29-39