DHA and ARA addition to infant formula: Current status and future research directions

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 Jan:128:26-40. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2017.09.005. Epub 2017 Sep 15.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are present in breast milk and play important roles in early infant development. A supply of these fatty acids in infant formula (typically following breast milk as a model with ARA > DHA) is thought to be important since endogenous synthesis is insufficient to maintain tissue levels equivalent to breast-fed infants. Intervention studies assessing the impact of DHA- and ARA-supplemented formulas have resulted in numerous positive developmental outcomes (closer to breast-fed infants) including measures of specific cognition functions, visual acuity, and immune responses. A critical analysis of outcome assessment tools reveals the essentiality of selecting appropriate, focused techniques in order to provide accurate evaluation of DHA- and ARA-supplemented formulas. Future research directions should encompass in-depth assessment of specific cognitive outcomes, immune function, and disease incidence, as well as sources of experimental variability such as the status of fatty acid desaturase polymorphisms.

Keywords: Arachidonic acid; Cognitive function; Docosahexaenoic acid; Immune function; Infant formula; Visual function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child Development
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Delta-5 Fatty Acid Desaturase
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Immunity / physiology
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / chemistry*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Vision, Ocular / drug effects
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology


  • Delta-5 Fatty Acid Desaturase
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • FADS2 protein, human