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The Developing Brain and Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Sheila M. Innis
Chapter

Abstract

The ω-3 fatty acids are essential dietary nutrients and are present in humans diets in three major forms, the 18-carbon chain α-linolenic acid (18:3ω-3) which is found in vegetable oils and other plant foods, and the 20- and 22-carbon chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5ω-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6ω-3), respectively, for which the richest dietary source is fish. One of most important roles of the ω-3 fatty acids is providing DHA for brain development and function. DHA is specifically enriched in brain grey matter ethanolamine phosphoglycerides and phosphatidylserine, represents 7–10% of human brain total fatty acids, and plays important roles in neurogenesis, neurite outgrowth, monoaminergic neurotransmission, and protection against oxidative and inflammatory insults. Dietary deficiency of ω-3 fatty acids results in decreased DHA and replacement by long chain ω-6 fatty acids which do not provide a functional substitute for the essential roles of DHA in the brain. During early development, DHA is provided by placental transfer and then in breast milk, placing the importance of ω-3 fatty acid nutrition on the mother, after weaning the importance of ω-3 fatty acid nutrition is shifted to the diet of children. Modern diets favoring high intakes of ω-6 fatty acids and low intakes of fish raise concern due to limited supplies of preformed DHA and EPA and interference with endogenous capacity to use ω-3 fatty acids. Evidence is growing to suggest that these dietary patterns may contribute to poor infant and child neural development, potentially impacting both behavior and cognitive abilities.

Keywords

Human Milk Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Fatty Acid Intake Brain Grey Matter Fatty Acid Pool 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Abbreviations

ALA

Alpha Linolenic Acid, 18:3ω-3

ARA

Arachidonic Acid, 20:4 ω-6

DHA

Docosahexaenoic Acid 22:6 ω-3

EPA

Eicosapentaenoic Acid 20:5 ω-3

EPG

Ethanolamine Phosphoglycerides Including Diacyl and Plasmalogen

FAD

Fatty Acid Desaturases

LA

Linoleic Acid, 18:2 ω-6

PC

Phosphatidylcholine

PI

Phosphatidylinositol

PS

Phosphatidylserine

TG

Triacylglycerols

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Paediatrics, Child and Family Research InstituteUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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