Has an aquatic diet been necessary for hominin brain evolution and functional development?

Br J Nutr. 2006 Jul;96(1):7-17. doi: 10.1079/bjn20061805.


A number of authors have argued that only an aquatic-based diet can provide the necessary quantity of DHA to support the human brain, and that a switch to such a diet early in hominin evolution was critical to human brain evolution. This paper identifies the premises behind this hypothesis and critiques them on the basis of clinical literature. Both tissue levels and certain functions of the developing infant brain are sensitive to extreme variations in the supply of DHA in artificial feeding, and it can be shown that levels in human milk reflect maternal diet. However, both the maternal and infant bodies have mechanisms to store and buffer the supply of DHA, so that functional deficits are generally resolved without compensatory diets. There is no evidence that human diets based on terrestrial food chains with traditional nursing practices fail to provide adequate levels of DHA or other n-3 fatty acids. Consequently, the hypothesis that DHA has been a limiting resource in human brain evolution must be considered to be unsupported.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Ecosystem
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Food Chain
  • Humans
  • Marine Biology
  • Milk, Human / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Plants, Edible
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids