The role of essential fatty acids in neural development: implications for perinatal nutrition

Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 May;57(5 Suppl):703S-709S; discussion 709S-710S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/57.5.703S.


The brain is 60% structural lipid, which universally uses arachidonic acid (AA; 20:4n6) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) for growth, function, and integrity. Both acids are consistent components of human milk. Experimental evidence in animals has demonstrated that the effect of essential fatty acid deficiency during early brain development is deleterious and permanent. The risk of neurodevelopmental disorder is highest in the very-low-birth-weight babies. Babies born of low birth weight or prematurely are most likely to have been born to mothers who were inadequately nourished, and the babies tend to be born with AA and DHA deficits. Because disorders of brain development can be permanent, proper provision should be made to protect the AA and DHA status of both term and preterm infants to ensure optimum conditions for the development of membrane-rich systems such as the brain, nervous, and vascular systems.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / blood
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / prevention & control
  • Cerebral Palsy / etiology
  • Cerebral Palsy / prevention & control
  • Chickens
  • Child
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food, Formulated*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight* / blood
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Preconception Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Membrane Lipids