DHA and Brain Development

First 1000 days is a period that initiates with pregnancy and ends when the child turns 2 years old.

Pregnancy (270 days) + year 1 (365 days) + year 2 (365 days) = 1000 days

This period is marked with rapid growth and development of the child both in the womb and after birth. It is a time when there is maximum growth and rapid development of the brain, digestive and immune system.

Brain growth in infants

Development of the infant brain starts soon after a woman conceives and continues at a rapid rate while the infant is still in the womb. At birth, the weight of the infant brain is 1/4th the weight of the adult brain. Within the 1st year of life this weight triples and by the time the child turns 2, the brain weight is equivalent to 3/4th of the adult brain weight. It could thus be said that 80% of brain development is completed in the first 2 years of life.

Brain development is a complex interactive process in which early disruptive events could have a long lasting effect. It is thus very important to nourish the rapidly growing brain of the infant with the right nutrition. One of the most essential nutrients in this case is Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Arachidonic Acid (ARA) which are derived from Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids respectively. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid are considered essential as they cannot be produced by the human system and hence needs to be supplied from diet. These fatty acids are collectively also referred to as Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs).

Omega 3 , Eicosapentanoic Acid (EPA) , Docosahexaenoic Acid (Diet),(Human body)

DHA and Brain development

50%-60% of dry weight of adult brain comes from fat. DHA accounts for 97% of total omega 3 fatty acid in the brain. DHA is also found in high concentrations in the retina cells in the eye. Thus, DHA influences both the mental and vision development of the infant. DHA also helps in strengthening immunity by reducing inflammation, decreasing disease severity, enhancing antibody action etc.

The highest deposition of DHA occurs during the last trimester while the infant is still in the womb. Post birth, mothers’ milk is the best source of DHA for the infants. Thus for adequate DHA deposition in the infant, while in womb and post birth, it is very important that the mothers maintain adequate intake of DHA in diet. Mother’s should include DHA rich foods like cold water fishes- Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel and Omega 3 rich foods like flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil, soybean oil etc in the diet. For mothers who are unable to breast feed the infant, talk to the pediatrician on the next best available option.