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J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2006 Mar;42(3):287-92.

Docosahexaenoic acid in red blood cells of term infants receiving two levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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  • 1Retina Foundation of the Southwest, Dallas, Texas, USA.



A randomized, double-blind, prospective trial assessed effects of different formula levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids on blood phospholipid docosahexaenoic (DHA; 22:6omega3) and arachidonic acids (ARA; 20:4omega6) in term infants at 120 days of age.


Healthy, formula-fed term infants (n = 78) were randomized to 1) routine milk-based formula with 8 mg DHA, 21 mg ARA, 110 mg alpha-linolenic (ALA; 18:3omega3), and 1,000 mg linoleic acids (LA; 18:2omega6) per 100 kcal (Lower-long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids [LCPUFA]; n = 39) or 2) routine milk-based formula with 17 mg DHA, 34 mg ARA, 85 mg ALA, and 860 mg LA per 100 kcal (Higher-LCPUFA; n = 39). Fatty acid methyl esters from red blood cell (RBC) and plasma phospholipid fractions were assessed using capillary column gas chromatography.


Compared with infants fed Lower-LCPUFA formula, the Higher-LCPUFA group had significantly greater percentages of fatty acids as DHA in RBC phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), RBC phosphatidylcholine (PC), total RBC, and plasma phospholipids (P < 0.001). Infants fed Lower-LCPUFA formula had higher percentages of precursor omega6 fatty acids in the desaturation/elongation pathway but lower percentages of ARA (RBC PE, RBC PC, and plasma phospholipid, P < 0.001; total RBC, P = 0.017) compared with the Higher-LCPUFA group.


Greater amounts of dietary ALA do not produce as great an increase in DHA in blood lipids as preformed dietary DHA. Infants fed DHA at levels similar to human milk had significantly greater percentage of DHAat 120 days of age compared with the Lower-LCPUFA group despite higher precursor levels of ALA.

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