Essential fatty acid metabolism and requirements for LBW infants

Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1994 Dec;405:78-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.1994.tb13403.x.


Humans are unable to synthesize linoleic acid (LA) (18:2 omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) (18:3 omega-3). Most formulas provide ample LA, yet infants are at risk for omega-3 deficiency unless they are fed human milk. Neonates born at 30 weeks received human milk or were randomized to three formulas: formula A, based on corn oil, similar to old commercial formula; formula B, based on soy oil supplied LNA; or formula C, a product similar to B with added marine oil to provide docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 omega-3). The fatty acids of plasma and red blood cells had marked diet-induced differences. The rod photo-receptor tests demonstrated higher threshold and decreased sensitivity in the omega-3-deficient infants. Visual acuity also showed improved function of the brain cortex in the human milk and group C infants at follow-up at 57 weeks. These results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are needed for optimal development of visual function.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Electroretinography
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight / metabolism*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Visual Acuity
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / metabolism


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