Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Desperately Seeking DHA

Lesson of the day: DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid. DHA, I've recently learned, is not only important for adults, it is essential to provide your child a "smart start." DHA is found naturally in breastmilk. Other popular sources of DHA are: salmon, sardines, and tuna. Eggs and organ meats have a small amount of DHA in them, but the healthiest source of dietary DHA is seafood. Two 4-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week should yield a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Besides fish oils, vegetable oils (primarily flaxseed, soy, and canola) are also rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, with flaxseed oil being the best. The two F's, fish and flax, are the top brain-building foods for growing children, and adults.). DHA is available in most formulas in the US and the UK.

So what's the big deal? DHA has been shown to improve brain function, memory, stress response, immune response, allergies, asthma, as well as learning and behavioral disorders. In addition, DHA has been linked to a decrease in Alzheimer's, obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, adult onset diabetes and stroke.

Just how important is DHA for brain development? Consider these research findings:

  • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.
  • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.
  • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central nervous system development.
  • Some children with poor school performance because of ADD, have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet.
Still not convinced? Fats can also influence brain development and performance, especially at either end of life -- growing infants and elderly people. In fact, there are two windows of time in which the brain is especially sensitive to nutrition: the first two years of life for a growing baby and the last couple decades of life for a senior citizen. Both growing and aging brains need nutritious fats.

The most rapid brain growth occurs during the first year of life, with the infant's brain tripling in size by the first birthday. During this stage of rapid central nervous system growth, the brain uses sixty percent of the total energy consumed by the infant. Fats are a major component of the brain cell membrane and the myelin sheath around each nerve. So, it makes sense that getting enough fat, and the right kinds of fat, can greatly affect brain development and performance. In fact, during the first year, around fifty percent of an infant's daily calories come from fat. Mother Nature knows how important fat is for babies; fifty percent of the calories in mother's milk is fat.

(Information above courtesy of

So.... Did NHS provide me with any idea of how important it is to consume DHA while pregnant? (No) Did the midwives tell me how important it was to look for formula with DHA? (No) Did we move to the only country that does know the benefits or include DHA in its formula? (Yes) Did I ask our pediatrician here if I should be concerned that I could not find formula with DHA and he said no (Yes) Am I determined to find a way to add DHA to Chase's formula? (Yes)

So I asked a friend, who is currently pursuing her PhD in Nutrition, as I was concerned the current fish oil supplements would introduce trace elements of mercury and lead into my daughter's diet (which I was not about to do). My friend recommended Flax Seed Oil/Linseed Oil, but later we discovered that one's body needs to do several conversions to turn this into an Omega-3 fatty acid.

My mom, meanwhile, was on the case in the US and reported back that our pediatrician in Oregon indicated it would be okay to add several drops of Cod Liver Oil to Chase's formula.

So off I went to find Cod Liver Oil. Do the drugstores here have it? (No) Do the naturalpath stores have it? (No) Did they try to tell me I didn't need it? (Yes) Did they try to sell me Halibut oil? (Yes) Did they try to sell me pure Vitamin D? (Yes) Did they shake their heads disbelievingly when I told them I needed it for my daughter? (Yes)

Long story short, I am still trying to find cod liver oil in Switzerland. The good news is, my Sister-In-Law and mother will both be visiting this month, so I will ask them to load up their suitcases with it.

I just wanted to share my research, as I found it both interesting and informative.

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