What is DHA?

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain poly-unsaturated fatty acid that is part of the omega-3 fatty acid family, frequently dubbed “the healthy fats.”  In addition to playing a key role in keeping us healthy, DHA is crucial for optimal growth and maintenance of the brain and eyes throughout our entire lifecycle. It actually is the star of the show when it comes to forming the structure and function of all our neural tissues, including our vision, from the time we are in the womb. As we age, DHA continues to help support and strengthen our mental cognition and visual acuity.

DHA and kids: Why your child needs DHA

DHA plays its most important role during infancy and the early years of childhood. DHA plays a key structural component in the brain, eyes and nervous system. Because of the rapid growth that occurs during this period, adequate DHA intake is crucial for optimal development. In fact, babies’ brains grow 260% during the last trimester, another 175% during their first year of life, 18% during the second year, and about another 21% from year 2 through adulthood.[1] This is coupled with the high levels of DHA that are present in the brain and eyes is why many experts believe why it is important for babies and young children to receive DHA during this critical time of development.

How to get DHA

Babies being breastfed can get DHA from breast milk, but in varying amounts depending on the mother’s diet and how much omega-3s and DHA she is receiving.  A 2005 FDA survey found women typically ate only 2 ounces of fish a week, 6 ounces less than the minimum recommendations! Babies being formula-fed will get DHA only if the formula is fortified with it, which not all of them are, be sure to read the labels.

Once infants are being weened off breastmilk, it becomes even more difficult for young children to receive an adequate intake of DHA. This is the first time foods are being introduced to their diet and often times seafood isn’t the easiest food to introduce!  A DHA supplement is a great option for those who are concerned that their child is not receiving an adequate intake of DHA from breastmilk and diet alone. Giving your child a DHA supplement can be beneficial to ensure they are getting exactly the amount they need.  Before using any supplement you should discuss with your physician to get the okay.

What are the DHA recommendations for infants and children in US? Click here to read more.

 

Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN is a Ddrops guest blogger.  She is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and owner of BZ Nutrition, a private nutrition counselling practice in New York City. She works with clients to help them reach a variety of health goals and specializes in women’s nutrition, digestive disorders, heart health, weight loss, and general health and wellness. Brigitte is a contributing nutrition expert for SELF magazine and has quoted in Women’s Health, Shape, Cosmopolitan, US Weekly, and New Beauty.  She loves to go for brunch in her West Village neighborhood, and always eats her eggs with the yolks! You can stay in touch by following her as @BZNutrition on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

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[1]  Today’s Dietitian. The Role of DHA and ARA in Infant Nutrition and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes. Accessed on 6/21/2017.  http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/092208p66.shtml