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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


EFSA Approves Health Claim for DHA and Normal Brain Development

By Michael McBurney

Experts from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific opinion that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and contribution to normal brain development. The Panel noted the well-established role of DHA in normal brain function across all ages, including brain development in infants and children.

Based on the scientific evidence, the Panel approved the following statement:

“DHA contributes to normal brain development”. In order to bear the claim, foods for older infants and young children below the age of 24 months should provide a daily intake of 100 mg DHA in one or more servings, while foods for children from 2 to 18 years should provide a daily intake of 250 mg DHA in one or more servings.

Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA, are essential nutrients for health. While our bodies can synthesize these long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) from the precursor, results using radioistopically-labelled α-linolenic acid (ALA), find conversion rates of only 6% for EPA and 3.8% for DHA. These low conversion rates limit EPA and DHA synthesis from ALA.

DHA is the major structural lipid in the brain. During the first two years of life, the brain needs to accumulate large amounts of DHA. In their approval of the health claim, the EFSA Panel recognized the cause and effect relationship between DHA consumption and normal brain development.

Earlier this month, EFSA experts concluded there are no risks associated with DHA and/or EPA supplementation from algal oils and increased the safe supplemental intake level from 3 to 5g daily for adults.

Hopefully these actions by EFSA with respect to EPA and DHA will nudge US and Canada to establish a working group for DHA and EPA. It is time for DHA to be officially classified as a nutrient and added to the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) tables.

Main Citation

Scientific opinion on the development of a health claim related to DHA and contribution to normal brain development pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3840

Other Citations

Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? 1999 Int J Vitam Nutr Res 68(3):159-173

Scientific opinion on the extension of use for DHA and EPA-rich algal oil from Schizochytrium sp. as a novel food ingredient. 2014 EFSA J doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3843

Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies.