What Is ARA (Arachidonic acid)?
Arachidonic acid, or ARA, is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid (PUFA) found throughout the body. It is the primary omega-6 fatty acid in the brain, representing about 48% of the omega-6 fats found there.1,2,3,4 Dietary sources of ARA include meat, poultry and eggs. In early life, breast milk is the dietary source of ARA (as well as DHA)5, as it always contains both ARA and DHA. Interestingly, ARA levels in breast milk are relatively stable regardless of the mothers’ diet, suggesting ARA’s biological importance in the developing infant.6,7
ARA and DHA are considered conditionally essential nutrients during early life8 and play key roles in the structure and function of human tissues, immune function, and brain and retinal development during gestation and infancy.9,10,11 Dietary sources of ARA and DHA are required to maintain ARA and DHA status in infants and young children due to poor conversion from their fatty acids precursors, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) respectively.12,13,14 A balance of ARA and DHA in the cell membrane is important as this impacts function of the cell. Although DHA and ARA have discreetly different functions, their metabolism and functional activity are intertwined, with health benefits best characterized together.15,16
Science around ARA Omega-6 Benefits
- Together with DHA, ARA supports body, brain, and eye growth and function15
- ARA has a structural and functional role in all cell membranes and is also metabolically essential as a precursor and messenger for a variety of biological processes16
- ARA is a precursor to a group of important metabolites which have many roles including regulation of immune function17, inflammation18, fertility19 and blood flow20
- Martinez, M., Tissue levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids during early human development. J Pediatr, 1992.120(4 Pt 2): p. S129-38.
- Lauritzen, L., et al., The essentiality of long chain n-‐3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Prog Lipid Res, 2001. 40(1-‐2): p. 1-94.
- Salem, N., Jr., et al., Mechanisms of action of docosahexaenoic acid in the nervous system. Lipids, 2001. 36(9): p.945‐59.
- Crawford, M.A., The role of essential fatty acids in neural development: implications for perinatal nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr, 1993. 57(5 Suppl): p. 703S-709S; discussion 709S‐710S.
- Yuhas, R., K. Pramuk, and E.L. Lien, Human milk fatty acid composition from nine countries varies most in DHA. Lipids, 2006. 41(9): p. 851‐8.
- Brenna, J.T.; Varamini, B.; Jensen, R.G.; Diersen-Schade, D.A.; Boettcher, J.A.; Arterburn, L.M. Docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid concentrations in human milk worldwide. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2007, 85, 1457-1464.
- Crawford, M.A.; Wang, Y.; Forsyth, S.; Brenna, J.T. The European Food Safety Authority recommendation for polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of infant formula overrules breast milk, puts infants at risk, and should be revised. Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fat. Acids 2015, 102-103, 1-3.
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2010. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 91.
- Koletzko, B.; Carlson, S.E.; van Goudoever, J.B. Should infant formula provide both omega-3 DHA and omega-6 arachidonic acid? Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2015, 66, 137-138.
- Brenna, J.T. Arachidonic acid needed in infant formula when docosahexaenoic acid is present. Nutr. Rev. 2016, 74(5), 329-36.
- Pawlosky, R.J.; Lin, Y.H.; Llanos, A.; Mena, P.; Uauy, R.; Salem, N., Jr. Compartmental analysis of plasma 13C- and 2H-labelled n-6 fatty acids arising from oral administrations of 13C-U-18:2n-6 and 2H5-20:3n-6 in newborn infants. Pediatr. Res. 2006, 60, 327-333.
- Carnielli, V.P.; Simonato, M.; Verlato, G.; Luijendijk, I.; De Curtis, M.; Sauer, P.J.J.; Cogo, P.E. Synthesis of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in preterm newborns fed formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2007, 86, 1323-1330.
- Crawford, M.A.; Wang, Y.; Forsyth, S.; Brenna, J.T. New European Food Safety Authority recommendation for infant formulae contradicts the physiology of human milk and infant development. Nutr. Health. 2013, 22(2), 81-87.
- Carlson, S.E., Colombo, J. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Arachidonic Acid Nutrition in Early Development. Adv Pediatr, 2016, 63,453-71.
- Richard, C.; Lewis, E.D.; Field, C.J. Evidence for the essentiality of arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acid in the postnatal maternal and infant diet for the development of the infant’s immune system early in life. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab., 2016, 41, 461-475.