A Complete Guide to the Role of DHA in the Body

Why is DHA super important for your baby?

As an aware mother, you probably already know how important nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids are for your baby. However, every mother who wishes to see her child become smarter and stronger cannot overlook the importance of DHA too.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is an example of an essential fatty acid, which acts as a building block for the brain and retina (in the eyes). Here are all the things you need to know about this essential fatty acid:

Where do infants get DHA?

During pregnancy, DHA from the mother gets deposited in the baby’s brain and retina. After birth, babies get DHA from breast milk. This is sufficient for the first few months, after which they can produce DHA independently. The amount of DHA present in breast milk depends on the mother’s diet. On average, the DHA content of human breast milk is 30 times that of milk from other mammals.

The human body can produce DHA by synthesizing a polyunsaturated fatty acid known as linoleic acid, but this process is not very efficient.

DHA and development of the brain

One of the reasons expectant mothers need to consume DHA rich foods is because of the role of DHA in brain development. DHA plays an important role in cognitive development during the first year of a baby’s life. It also helps develop their problem-solving skills.

DHA and vision

The development of vision is one of the most important DHA benefits. During the last trimester of pregnancy, DHA deposits in the retina and brain help improve vision. This is the time when photoreceptor cells develop. Hence, women in the third trimester of their pregnancy should get adequate DHA.

DHA and immunity

Apart from boosting vision and mental development, DHA also influences the immune system. It strengthens a baby’s immunity and helps remove toxins from the body.

DHA and pregnancy

There are a number of DHA benefits for adults. Adequate DHA consumption can have a positive effect on pregnancy and lactation.

How much DHA does your baby need?

According to the WHO/FAO, babies between the age of 6 months and 24 months need 10-12mg/kg body weight of DHA every day.

Sources of DHA

Seafood is the best source of DHA. Other common dietary sources of DHA include:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish

DHA is also present in small amounts in green, leafy vegetables. Since the body can create a certain amount of DHA by synthesizing linoleic acid, consuming foods rich in this fatty acid may also be beneficial. Common sources of linoleic acid include flax seeds, olive oil, mustard oil, walnuts, fenugreek seeds, soya beans, canola oil and kidney beans.

Nursing mothers have higher DHA requirements since their breast milk is the only source of DHA for babies. Thus, they may have to take DHA supplements in addition to their diet, but only after consulting a doctor. DHA supplement benefits vegetarians, especially as no specific vegetarian sources of DHA have been identified.