Mother–Child Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Relationships: Implications for Diet and Behavior

  • S. A. van Goor
  • D. A. J. Dijck-Brouwer
  • F. A. J. Muskiet


The maternal diet prior to conception and during pregnancy and lactation, as well as infant nutrition during early life, are important for child growth and (neuro)development. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP) are among the many nutrients involved. Of these, notably docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are important for brain development. Maternal LCP status is correlated to fetal and neonatal LCP status. Consequently, brain development in Western countries might be suboptimal, since typically Western diets are characterized by low fish consumption, and thereby low DHA intakes. Maternal insulin resistance and compromised glucose homeostasis, as occurring in (gestational) diabetes and preeclampsia, may cause a state of relative fetal LCP deficiency. This might be of growing importance since Western populations experience an increasing incidence of overweight, which is a risk factor for both (gestational) diabetes and preeclampsia. Animal studies and association studies in humans have indicated the influence of early LCP status on neurodevelopment. However, meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of LCP supplementation in pregnancy, pregnancy plus lactation, and early postnatal life are at best inconclusive. Possible causes of this discrepancy include very low supplemental LCP dosages, the inability of employed tests to detect subtle differences in specific brain functions, a nonlinear (U-shaped) relation between DHA and neurodevelopment, brain plasticity, and the expression of the effects of LCP after early infancy which necessitates the need to test at a later age. Current recommendations for infant formula are based on milk from Western mothers with relatively low DHA contents. Milk from traditionally eating women living in the land–water ecosystem has higher DHA contents. Adults are currently advised to consume 450 mg LCPn-3/day to lower their risk for cardiovascular disease. Pregnant and lactating women are advised to take 300 mg DHA/day. Women adhering to these recommendations are estimated to have milk DHA levels above the current recommendations for infant formulas. Appropriate information for health benefits are unlikely to be derived solely from RCTs with single nutrients, since these basically ignore the many possible interactions between different nutrients and usually rely on dose choices from poorly investigated dose–response relations. Until further notice, a combination of data from milk of mothers eating traditional diets from the land–water ecosystem and of mothers adhering to evidence-based recommended LCP intakes for adults may constitute the basis for LCP recommendations for infants, while more attention should be paid to the interaction of other nutrients with LCP.


Arachidonic Acid Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Infant Formula Postpartum Depression Mead Acid 



Essential fatty acids


Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids


Linoleic acid


Alpha-linolenic acid


Fatty acid desaturase 1 (delta-5 desaturase)


Fatty acid desaturase 2 (delta-6 desaturase)


Arachidonic acid


Eicosapentaenoic acid


Docosahexaenoic acid


Saturated fatty acids


Monounsaturated fatty acids


Peroxisome proliferator activated receptor


Cardiovascular disease


Randomized controlled trials


Red blood cells


Gestational diabetes mellitus


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. A. van Goor
    • 1
  • D. A. J. Dijck-Brouwer
  • F. A. J. Muskiet
  1. 1.University Medical Center GroningenRodenThe Netherlands

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