How do sustainable DHA and ARA support mothers and infants during the first 1,000 days of life?

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • The nutritional lipids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are important building blocks for a healthy start in life, supporting infant cognitive and visual development, as well as immunity, bone health and more. i,ii,iii,iv,v,vi
  • There is a growing need for convenient and sustainable plant-based nutritional lipids that support maternal and infant health, without compromising the health of our planet.   
  • Read our blog to discover dsm-firmenich’s portfolio of 100% plant-based nutritional lipids that deliver the essential health benefits of DHA and ARA with zero impact on marine ecosystems.  

Getting the right nutrition is important across the lifespan, but it’s particularly crucial for women of childbearing age and for infants during the first 1,000 days of life. It is well recognized that – from preconception through to a child’s second birthday – nutritional lipids play a pivotal role in health and development, including the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and omega-6 arachidonic acid (ARA). Read on to explore how dsm-firmenich’s sustainable DHA and ARA solutions can help give babies the best possible start in life.

The role of omega-3 DHA: from conception to motherhood 

Lipids, specifically DHA, play a role in early life nutrition before an infant is even conceived. Emerging evidence suggests that adequate omega-3 DHA intake among women undergoing assisted reproduction may potentially increase the likelihood of a successful conception and help prepare the body for a healthy pregnancy.vii,viii DHA accumulates rapidly in the fetal brain and plays a fundamental role in early brain development. A recent systematic review reported that DHA intakes during pregnancy are positively associated with neurodevelopmental outcomes in infants and children.ix Moreover, a Cochrane review found that the addition of DHA during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm birth by 11% and early preterm birth by 42%.x In addition, recent clinical trials have found that women with adequate DHA intake early in pregnancy are at a reduced risk of preterm and early preterm births, suggesting that supplementation with DHA prior to becoming pregnant may be protective.xi,xii

Omega-3s are not only important for babies, but for mothers too. While pregnancy and motherhood are an exciting time, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are extremely prevalent and one of the most common complications of pregnancy.xiii However, omega-3s yet again show huge promise in this space, with research indicating DHA can potentially support and maintain a healthy, balanced mood for women during pregnancy and after giving birth.xiv,xv,xvi

Supporting infant development with DHA and ARA

DHA and ARA are both found naturally in breastmilk – the gold standard in infant nutrition – typically with ARA levels higher than those of DHA.xvii,xviii However, EU regulations made in 2020 outline that only DHA is a mandatory ingredient for infant formula, leaving ARA as optional. This has caused controversy throughout the infant nutrition market, largely due to the lack of scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of supplying DHA alone. Experts strongly believe that infant nutrition formulators should follow existing scientific knowledge – that is to base infant nutrition formulations on the composition of human milk and include both DHA and ARA.  

Both DHA and ARA accumulate in the brain and support almost every area of brain function as an infant grows including mental adaptability and problem solving, as well as attention and information processing. DHA and ARA have also been shown to have positive effects on visual development when provided together and in efficacious levels during pregnancy and throughout infancy.

There is growing evidence for the combined role of DHA and ARA in the developing immune system, as well as the role of ARA in healthy bone formation, blood flow and blood vessel formation. As such, it is clear that – together – these nutritional lipids have a myriad of health benefits that are essential to supporting proper growth and development during early life.   

ARA should therefore be added to infant formula and follow-on formula together with DHA, in similar or higher concentrations to support optimal infant growth and development.xix

When diet alone is not enough

A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals is important to promote a healthy pregnancy. However, the diet alone is often inadequate to reach the necessary levels of DHA for women of childbearing age. As a result, dietary supplements are regularly recommended so that the mother and developing baby can access the health benefits of DHA.

After birth, infants must continue receiving nutritional lipids from breastmilk to support their growth. However, some mothers are unable to breastfeed their child. As such, experts in infant nutrition strongly advocate for the presence of both DHA and ARA at levels and ratios consistent with human milk in infant and follow-on formula during this critical development window, to ensure that every baby can benefit from nutritional lipids.xx,xxi,xxii,xxiii To keep up with the demands of health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers, manufactures need a high quality, sustainable source of DHA and ARA.  

Discover dsm-firmenich’s life’s portfolio

As a global leader in nutritional products, we believe that quality and sustainability go hand in hand, which is why we have developed our life’s portfolio including life’sDHA® and life’sARA®. We source all our life’s nutritional lipids from algae and fungus, so we can offer high quality, vegan and vegetarian, fermented ingredients with zero impact on marine ecosystems. Switching from fish oil-derived omega-3s to plant-based alternatives could make a world of difference to our fragile ocean ecosystems, which are in vast decline due to overfishing. In fact, 22 million tons of fish are used for non-food purposes including fish meal and fish oil every year. Therefore, if the rest of the world were to follow our example and switch to 100% plant-sourced DHA and ARA, we could better protect our marine life.xxiv  

Contrary to popular belief, fish do not produce omega-3s, in fact they consume omega-3 fats from eating microalgae in the ocean. Therefore, our leading algal-based innovation for nutritional lipids simply cuts out the middleman – or in this case, fish – and goes directly to the source. This means our algal-based ingredients deliver exactly the same health benefits as fish oil-derived omega-3s. They’re also solvent-free, non-GMO, free from environmental and marine contaminants and have a reduced fishy taste and smell. What’s more, our life’sDHA® solution is the only high potency omega-3 on the market that contains the natural triglyceride form of DHA. The triglyceride format is the safest and most stable, bioavailable form of omega-3.xxv

At dsm-firmenich, we work with one mission in mind: to provide optimal early life nutrition solutions that meet growing demand and reach a new generation of consumers. Our life’s portfolio is the ideal option for today’s sustainability-focused, health-savvy mothers. Together, we can help support a healthier future for mothers, infants and the planet.  

Published on

15 August 2023


4 min read

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