Deakin University

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What Is the Evidence for Dietary-Induced DHA Deficiency in Human Brains?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-11-22, 04:24 authored by Andrew SinclairAndrew Sinclair, Y Wang, D Li
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a major constituent of neural and visual membranes and is required for optimal neural and visual function. DHA is derived from food or by endogenous synthesis from α-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid. Low blood levels of DHA in some westernised populations have led to speculations that child development disorders and various neurological conditions are associated with sub-optimal neural DHA levels, a proposition which has been supported by the supplement industry. This review searched for evidence of deficiency of DHA in human populations, based on elevated levels of the biochemical marker of n-3 deficiency, docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-6). Three scenarios/situations were identified for the insufficient supply of DHA, namely in the brain of new-born infants fed with high-linoleic acid (LA), low-ALA formulas, in cord blood of women at birth who were vegetarians and in the milk of women from North Sudan. Twenty post-mortem brain studies from the developed world from adults with various neurological disorders revealed no evidence of raised levels of 22:5n-6, even in the samples with reduced DHA levels compared with control subjects. Human populations most likely at risk of n-3 deficiency are new-born and weanling infants, children and adolescents in areas of dryland agriculture, in famines, or are refugees, however, these populations have rarely been studied. This is an important topic for future research.