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Ask the Dietitian - Where Does DHA Come From?

Ask the Dietitian - Where Does DHA Come From?

Posted by Diane, MPH, RD, LD - Director of Nutrition Services on Jul 23rd 2020

Not all DHA and ARA is the same! It is important for parents to know that DHA and ARA can come from a variety of sources.

So, what sources of DHA and ARA could be used to supplement infant and toddler formulas? There are 3 possible, yet very different, sources - fish oil, egg yolk phospholipids, and algal/fungal oils/

Not all sources of DHA and ARA are biologically equivalent nor tolerated, absorbed and assimilated by an infant's body equally. The human body metabolizes or uses phospholipids differently from triglycerides. Because triglycerides such as those in algal, fungal, and fish oils are not soluble in water, they must be broken down and held in suspension - a process called emulsification - and require bile acids for digestion before they can be absorbed in the intestinal tract and then used by the body. Because of their chemical structure, phospholipids have both hydrophilic water (water soluble) and lipophilic (fat soluble) properties and are not reliant on bile acids for digestion. They form smaller droplets and are more easily absorbed in the intestinal tract and offer greater bio availability.

A deeper dive on the sources of DHA and ARA:

Fish Oil: Because studies have shown that preterm infants supplemented with fish oil weighed less at various times during the first year of life compared to infants given a formula without the supplemental fish oil, fish oils have not yet been used as a source of DHA in infant or toddler formulas.

Algal and Fungal Oils: In 2001, US infant formula manufacturers began adding a novel source of DHA from algae and ARA from fungus. These novel fatty acids in a form of fat called triglycerides. Because of harsh, toxic chemicals such as hexane used to extract and process the oil, Nature's One believes these sources of DHA and ARA have no place in organic products, especially ones designed for infants and young children. The non-profit organization, The Cornucopia Institute, has reviewed in detail the controversy surrounding algal and fungal sources of DHA and ARA along with reports of some adverse effects on infants when fed formulas containing this source of DHA. Click here to view the entire Cornucopia Institute's report. 

Egg Yolk Phospholipids: The sources of DHA and ARA in Nature's One's DHA supplemented formulas is derived from egg yolk phospholipids (also called egg lecithin), a safe and natural source of these fatty acids. Nature's One has chosen to use egg phospholipids over algal and fungal oils because it is not a hexane processed triglyceride. The use of egg phospholipids in human nutrition, especially infant nutrition, has been widely studied. Research suggests that the addition of phospholipids to infant formulas is desirable due to their important role in human milk. The phospholipids contained in breast milk are rich sources of DHA. However, infant and toddler formulas contain high levels of triglycerides formulated with vegetable oil blends, such as sunflower/safflower, coconut, canola or soil oil, but are void of phospholipids. Knowing infant and toddler formulas already provide abundant triglycerides as found in algal oils. The other benefit of using organic egg phospholipids is its natural content of choline. Choline is an essential nutrient considered to be part of the B-family of vitamins. It is necessary for the structure and function of all cells in the body and is especially important during periods of rapid growth and development including good brain development.

I hope this article has helped you understand the sources of DHA and ARA, and why Nature's One feels so strongly about sourcing our DHA and ARA from egg yolk phospholipids. If you have any other questions about DHA and ARA, let me know!

-Diane