Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) play specific roles during the perinatal period and are very important nutrients to consider. The possible effects of LCPUFAs, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), on various clinical outcomes of preterm infants are discussed in this paper. Since DHA accumulates in the central nervous system during development, a lot of attention has focused on the effects of DHA on neurodevelopment.

Experimental studies as well as recent clinical trials show that providing larger amounts of DHA than currently and routinely provided is associated with better neurological outcomes at 18 months to 2 years. This early advantage, however, does not seem to translate into detectable change in visual and neurodevelopmental outcomes or behavior when assessed in childhood.

There is growing evidence that, in addition to effects on development, omega-3 LCPUFAs may reduce the incidence or severity of neonatal morbidities by affecting different steps of the immune and anti-inflammatory response.

Studies in preterm infants suggest that the omega-3 LCPUFAs may play a significant role by reducing the risk of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, necrotizing enterocolitis and possibly retinopathy of prematurity and sepsis. Overall, evidence is increasing to support the benefits of high-dose DHA for various health outcomes of preterm infants. These findings are of major clinical relevance mainly because infants born preterm are at particularly high risk for a nutritional deficit in omega-3 fatty acids, predisposing to adverse neonatal outcomes.

Further studies are warranted to address these issues as well as to more precisely determine the LCPUFA requirement in order to favor the best possible outcomes of preterm infants.