Docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid levels are correlated in human milk: Implications for new European infant formula regulations

Lipids. 2022 May;57(3):197-202. doi: 10.1002/lipd.12338. Epub 2022 Feb 15.


From February 2022, all infant formula sold in the European Union must contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at ~0.33%-1.14% of total fat with no minimum requirement for arachidonic acid (ARA). This work examines the association between DHA and ARA levels in human milk, the gold standard for infant feeding. Human milk (n = 470) was collected over 12-weeks postpartum from lactating mothers (n = 100) of infants born weighing <1250 g (NCT02137473). Fatty acids were analyzed by gas chromatography. ARA and DHA concentrations were associated in human milk (β = 0.47 [95% confidence interval 0.38-0.56] mol%), including transitional and mature milk, but not colostrum. This remained significant upon adjustment for percentages of other saturated, monounsaturated, n-3, or n-6 fatty acids, day of sample collection, or maternal characteristics (body mass index, ethnicity, education, and income). Infant formulas containing relatively high concentrations of DHA without ARA, as permitted by the new regulations, would not reflect the balance of these fatty acids in human milk.

Keywords: European Union; arachidonic acid; docosahexaenoic acid; fatty acids; human milk; infant formula.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / analysis
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula* / chemistry
  • Lactation
  • Milk, Human* / chemistry


  • Fatty Acids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid

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