Docosahexaenoic acid fortifies breast milk

HOUSTON, TEXAS. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important component of brain cell membranes; a deficiency during infancy has been linked to poorer brain development and a decline in visual acuity. DHA occurs naturally in breast milk, but is absent in most infant formulas. Surveys have shown that the docosahexaenoic acid content in breast milk from American women tends to be lower than that in milk from women in most other countries. Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine now report that the DHA content of breast milk can be increased by supplementing with DHA and that this higher docosahexaenoic acid content is transferred to breast-fed infants. The study involved 26 pregnant women who planned to breast feed exclusively for at least eight weeks after giving birth. The women were randomly assigned to one of four groups and given a daily DHA supplement or placebo from two weeks after giving birth to eight weeks after giving birth. Group 1 received an algae-produced triacylglycerol with a high docosahexaenoic acid content (providing less than 230 mg/day of DHA); group 2 consumed two high docosahexaenoic acid content eggs (providing 170 mg/day of DHA); group 3 took a low EPA, high docosahexaenoic acid fish oil (providing 260 mg/day of DHA); and group 4 (the control group) consumed two regular eggs daily (providing less than 35 mg/day of DHA).

All three forms of DHA supplements produced significant increases in the docosahexaenoic acid content of the women’s blood plasma (phospholipid phase) and breast milk. Consumption of two eggs per day over a six-week period was well tolerated by all participants and had no adverse effects on cholesterol or triglyceride levels. The DHA level in the blood plasma (phospholipid phase) of the breast-fed infants also increased significantly over the six-week supplementation period with the infants in groups 1 and 3 having the largest increases.

Note: This study was supported by a grant from the Mead-Johnson Nutritional Group. [61 references]

Jensen, Craig L., et al. Effect of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation of lactating women on the fatty acid composition of breast milk lipids and maternal and infant plasma phospholipids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71 (suppl), January 2000, pp. 292S-99S

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