How to Ensure That Your Baby Gets Enough DHA and ARA
Providing DHA and ARA for Your Baby
Infants must obtain DHA and ARA from their diets, so it is important that parents provide them a diet that includes adequate amounts of both nutrients. Research has shown that infants who consumed adequate amounts of DHA and ARA, either through breast milk or DHA and ARA supplemented formulas, had higher levels of DHA in their bodies which may lead to improved developmental outcomes, including improved mental, visual and motor skill development.
DHA and ARA through Breastfeeding
Breast milk naturally contains DHA and ARA. Therefore, it is important that breastfeeding women consume a healthy diet that includes these important nutrients to support both their health and the health of their developing infant.
While most women typically consume enough ARA in their diets, many do not get enough DHA. The primary source of DHA is fatty fish, a dietary choice that is not a staple of the typical Western diet. Additionally, expert bodies such as the FDA have advised pregnant and nursing women to limit their fish consumption due to the potentially high levels of toxins such as mercury (See Fish Advisories
). Fortunately, a growing awareness of the dietary sources of DHA and the recent inclusion of DHA in certain prenatal products and fortified foods are making it easier for women who are breastfeeding to include this important nutrient in their diets every day.
DHA and ARA through Infant Formula
Although breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants, some mothers are either unable to breast feed or choose to use infant formula for various reasons. Fortunately, over 90% of the infant formula sold in the U.S. now includes DHA and ARA. In fact, expert bodies such as a joint Expert Committee of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization (WHO/FAO) have recommended the inclusion of DHA and ARA in infant formulas.
Supplemented infant formula has been shown to be a good source of DHA and ARA for formula-fed babies. Certain studies have shown that infants who were fed formula supplemented with DHA and ARA at recommended levels showed improved mental development and exhibited better visual acuity than infants who were fed formula without these fatty acids.
What is ARA and Why It's Important for Your Health
Arachidonic acid (ARA) a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid, is the principal omega-6 in the brain, representing about 48% of the omega-6 fats in the brain. It is also abundant in other cells throughout the body. Like DHA, ARA occurs naturally in breast milk and is important for proper brain development in infants. It is also a precursor to a group of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that play a role in immunity, blood clotting and other vital functions in the body. Supplementation beyond infancy is generally not required because adults obtain ARA by eating a balanced diet containing foods such as meat, eggs and milk.