What is Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic Acid. Sorry, what now?!

You may be more familiar with the abbreviated term DHA. It might sound a bit complicated, but DHA is a simple micronutrient that is essential for you and your little one too, which is why we have chosen to add it into our baby purees.

We thought it would be handy to tell you a little more about DHA, as we know how important it is to understand what you are feeding your little one and most importantly, why.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Quick Facts

  • DHA is an essential fatty acid that has been shown to play an important role in cognitive and visual development in infants.
  • Our bodies can’t make DHA, so we rely on our diet to get DHA in sufficient quantities.
  • It is difficult to find DHA rich/abundant food sources that are suitable for infants. The most common sources are breastmilk or DHA fortified infant products.
  • Early introduction of DHA has been shown to aid in efficient and optimal development that is important to be maintained throughout life by consuming DHA rich food sources such as fish, chia seeds, walnuts or flaxseeds.

Function of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a fatty acid that belongs to the Omega-3 family of fatty acids. These are a group of fatty acids that have been shown to have significant functional properties in human digestion.(1,2,3)

Research indicates that DHA is a nutrient essential for growth and development of some aspects of the central nervous system, particularly cognitive functioning, alongside improvements in vision.(1,2,3)

In summary, DHA has been suggested to aid in the following(1,2,3):

  • Improvement in cognitive function
  • Visual development resulting in increased visual acuity (ability to differentiate shapes and details of objects)
  • Protection against allergies in early childhood

Benefits of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Our bodies, no matter what age or size, can’t make DHA.(3) This means that we have to source it from food in order to get it into our bodies for it to do the jobs it needs to.

For infants, like your little one, an early introduction to DHA is crucial to aid in efficient and optimal development of their brain and eye functioning.(1,4) DHA can be introduced through food sources, such as maternal or infant products that have been fortified, just like our Australian Fruit Purees.

Laboratory based studies and research has shown that a deficiency in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) can have a negative impact on neurocognitive development.(5) With DHA not being a mandatory fortification into infant products here in Australia, many infants are at a higher risk of having insufficient intake.(4,5)

We have included DHA into our fruit puree products as we have seen through research, that DHA is an important nutrient to include for your little one. We are here to help you help your little one the best way you can.

It must be highlighted that the optimal amount of DHA fortification is not known, as dietary requirements vary between each infant and is dependent on individual genetic profile, gender, and many other factors.

Sources of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

There are many sources of Omega-3 fatty acids which contain DHA. The best known source is oily fish (think salmon, mackerel and anchovies).(5) These are the most abundant and rich sources of DHA, however, the taste can be extremely polarising, especially to little ones, and may not be most pleasant to be feeding your infant.

There are a few plant based sources that contain DHA, although they are not as rich a source as fish.(5) Plant based sources of DHA include:

  • Canola
  • Soybean
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia Seeds
  • Algae based products

The DHA Omega-3 we use in our Australian Fruit Purees is sourced from an Algal Oil Powder, which is a primary source of omega-3.(5,6) The plant-based source of DHA avoids all potential undesirable flavours and aromas associated with fish oil. The use of algal oil also makes our Australian Fruit Puree suitable for families who are plant-based or seeking plant-based alternatives.

Do I need any DHA?

Our bodies can’t create DHA, so we need to ensure that we are getting Omega-3 fatty acids through our diet.(3) Although as adults we may not need that cognitive development, studies have shown that DHA is involved with the production and release of chemicals called neurotransmitters.(5,6) These have been associated with aiding memory formation, protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, alleviating depression and maintaining cardiovascular health in adults.(5,6)

When breastfeeding, the maternal diet influences your infant’s dietary intake levels of DHA, so it is also important to maintain your own levels to provide DHA when feeding.

Conclusion

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is an important micronutrient that is extremely important in the development of the central nervous system in infants, particularly aiding cognitive and visual development. It is important that infants have access to a supply of DHA to ensure optimal development and minimise risk of nutrient deficiency.

Sourcing DHA from multiple food sources, either fish or plant based can help increase your little one's food variety intake and introduction to foods from an early age!

If you’re looking for an easy and convenient source of DHA, try our range of Australian Fruit Purees with added DHA.

As always, here at Funch, we recommend consulting with your family dietitian, midwives and medical team prior to introducing any new foods into your little one’s or your own diet.

References

  1. https://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-05822017000100003&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en#:~:text=In%20this%20regard%2C%20DHA%20is,and%20the%20retina%20of%20humans
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2011.00356.x
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047248414000839
  4. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/1/6/htm
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834239/
  6. https://www.nature.com/articles/pr2007103