Dr. Richard Litov's career has been devoted to research to improve human health and well-being. He has a Ph.D. in Nutrition from the University of California at Davis. Dr. Litov discusses the importance of the omega-3 acid, DHA, for preschoolers in the following interview.
Dr. Litov, please tell us about yourself.
I worked for Mead Johnson for 12 years designing and testing infant and adult nutrition products for healthy and sick individuals. For the last 12 years, I have directed Pedia Research, a dedicated research clinic that evaluates nutritional products and medications for safety and effectiveness in children and adults. We have participated in a number of studies over the years that have demonstrated the success of new products to improve health and treat diseases. One of the exciting areas of nutrition research today is DHA.
What is DHA?
DHA is short for "docosahexaenoic acid," an important member of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Since our bodies cannot make DHA, we need to obtain it from our diet. DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the brain and makes up around 50 percent by weight of the neuronal membranes. It is no wonder that DHA has been shown to be important in cognitive development. The effects of DHA in infants have been well established in clinical studies. Fish get their omega-3s from microalgae or from eating other fish that eat microalgae. life'sDHA, a vegetarian source of omega-3 DHA, is derived from microalgae and does not contain any of the harmful contaminants potentially found in fish. life'sDHA can be found in supplements and is used to fortify foods and beverages.
Is DHA also important in preschool children, who are at their most rapid stage of learning development?
The first study to evaluate the impact of DHA on cognitive function in preschool children was published in the May issue of Clinical Pediatrics. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that preschool children who had higher blood levels of DHA through supplementation performed better on a listening comprehension and vocabulary test. Healthy four-year-old children were given a daily DHA supplement of life'sDHA of 400 mg for four months.
Cognitive function was measured using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which requires children to select a picture representing the meaning of a word presented orally by the examiner. This test is associated with the prediction of school success. The study results suggest that increasing blood DHA levels in pre-school children through supplementation may improve listening comprehension and vocabulary.
What can parents do to raise their children's DHA levels?
Foods that are naturally rich in DHA are fish and organ meats, i.e., foods that young children in particular are not fond of eating. Thus, it is not surprising that the typical diet of young children contain DHA well below half of the minimum 100 mg daily recommended by experts. Parents can increase the DHA intake of their child by choosing foods and drinks that are fortified with DHA as shown on the food label or with a DHA supplement.
life'sDHA is currently the only source of DHA used in U.S. infant formula and is now available in more than 95 percent of infant formulas in the U.S. Now life'sDHA can also be found in many foods, beverages and supplements, including the following:
- Yoplait Kids Yogurt
- Horizon Organic Milk Plus DHA
- Silk Plus Omega-3 DHA Soymilk
- Sunkist Glorious Greens Smoothie
- Minute Maid Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored 100 Percent Juice Blend
- Rachel's Wickedly Delicious Yogurt
- Gold Circle Farms Eggs
- life'sDHA supplements for kids and adults.
A dietary reference intake and its related daily value have not yet been established for DHA as it has for other nutrients listed on food labels.
Is DHA safe?
DHA being an important structural component of the body, particularly in the brain and eye, is inherently safe. In addition, obtaining sufficient DHA from typical diets is difficult, thus consuming too high amounts of dietary DHA is of negligible concern. Consuming foods fortified with DHA and DHA supplements according to their instructions is safe. Fish may contain harmful contaminants. Visit the EPA's website for fish advisories and guidelines.
Where can parents read more about this information?
You can read more about DHA by reading Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten by David Perlmutter, M.D., F.A.C.N., and Carol Colman. You can also find out more information by visiting lifesDHA.com, the May issue of Clinical Pediatrics, and the EPA EPA's website.