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How do low levels of DHA in premature babies affect them later on in life?


Sometimes, something goes wrong, and a baby is born ahead of schedule. Modern medical technology has advanced to a point where even if a baby is born after only 21 weeks (about half the normal time), he can still live. He is placed in an incubator, where the temperature and humidity is carefully controlled to mimic the womb, and where he is fed his mothers milk or standard formula. But often, these babies develop visual, cognitive, and other neural disabilities later in life. Serious problems that may develop include mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

Premature babies are deficient in DHA, arachidonic acid, and the antioxidant enzymes needed to protect polyunsaturated fatty acids. Their deficiencies in DHA have been associated with poor vision, suppressed mental functions, and poor coordination. Low arachidonic acid levels reflect slightly suppressed growth. Fortunately, direct supplementation seems to help. For instance, numerous studies by Dr. S. Carlson at the University of Tennessee found giving premature babies DHA at 0.2% of their total fatty acid intake greatly improved their visual acuity and mental development. Consequently, the International Society for Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids now recommends that premature baby formula be supplemented with arachidonic acid and DHA. Specifically, arachidonic acid should be given in the amount of 60-100 mg/kg bodyweight/day, and DHA, 35-75 mg/kg/day.

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