Docosahexaenoate (DHA) has been increasingly recognized as an important fatty acid for neural and visual development during the first 6 mon of life. One important point of controversy that remains is the degree to which adequate levels of DHA can be acquired from endogenous synthesis in infants vs. what should be provided as dietary DHA.

We have approached this problem by a retrospective analysis of published body composition data to estimate the actual accumulation of DHA in the human infantbrain, liver, adipose tissue, remaining lean tissue, and whole body. Estimating whether infants can synthesize sufficient DHA required comparison to and extrapolation from animal data.

Over the first 6 mon of life, DHA accumulates at about 10 mg/d in the whole body of breast-fed infants, with 48% of that amount appearing in the brain.

To achieve that rate of accumulation, breast-fed infants need to consume a minimum of 20 mg DHA/d. Virtually all breast milk provides a DHA intake of at least 60 mg/d. Despite a store of about 1,050 mg of DHA in body fat at term birth and an intake of about 390 mg/d alpha-linolenate (alpha-LnA), the brain of formula-fed infants not consuming DHA accumulates half the DHA of the brain of breast-fed infants while the rest of the body actually loses DHA over the first 6 months of life.

No experimental data indicate that formula-fed infants not consuming DHA are able to convert the necessary 5.2% of alpha-LnA intake to DHA to match the DHA accumulation of breast-fed infants.

We conclude that dietary DHA should likely be provided during at least the first 6 months of life.