Maternal AA consumption boosts omega-6 in breast milk: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dha Essential fatty acid Fatty acid Omega-6 fatty acid

Supplements of the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) boosted the AA content in the breast milk of lactating mothers, according to a new study from the Netherlands.

Moreover, combining the AA with DHA (omega-3) fatty acids did not affect the increases in omega-3 levels, according to researchers from Nutri-Science, DSM, Maastricht University, and Nutri-Search.

“Because of their multiple health benefits, it can be expected that the intake of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids ((n-3) LCPUFA) will increase in the general population and in pregnant and lactating women, in particular. Elevated (n-3) LCPUFA consumption often coincides with decreased AA status of an individual,”​ wrote lead author Antje Weseler in the Journal of Nutrition​.

“In pregnant and lactating women, however, this may not be desirable, because AA is considered essential for fetal and neonatal development.”

Indeed, both DHA and AA are used in infant formulas, with about one third of European infant formulas and follow-on formulas containing the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

“This is not the first AA supplementation study in lactating women, but it is the first to demonstrate an AA increasing effect,” ​said​Gerard Hornstra, Professor Emeritus of Experimental Nutrition at Maastricht University and Nutri-Search Healthy Lipids Research and Consultancy.

In an email to, Prof Hornstra added: “Since we only used one dose of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, the study design did not allow us to investigate a potential dose-response for DHA. From studies by others, however, we know that such a dose-response is present indeed. From the two AA doses applied by us in the present study, a dose-response for AA was clearly present.”

Study details

Prof Hornstra and his co-workers recruited 52 healthy pregnant women with an intention to breast feed their babies. The women were in the 34th or 35th weeks of their pregnancies when they were recruited.

The parallel, double-blind, controlled trial involved assigning the lactating women to one of four groups: control group (no extra AA or DHA), two AA groups (200 or 400 mg per day) in combination with 320 mg of DHA and 80 mg EPA, or a omega-3 only group receiving the same DHA, EPA dose for eight weeks.

The DHA was from BASF Health and Nutrition, while DSM Food Specialties provided the AA (Optimar single cell oil). DSM Food Specialties also funded the study.

You get out what you put in

The researchers report that combined AA and DHA consumption led to dose-dependent increases of AA and total omega-6 fatty acid concentrations in the fat levels of the breast milk. DHA and total omega-3 fatty acid levels increased with consumption of the additional DHA, and AA did not affect these levels.

“We demonstrated that the consumption by lactating women of additional AA and (n-3) LCPUFA increased the AA and DHA concentrations of their milk total lipids,” ​wrote the researchers.

“For AA, this effect appeared dose dependent. Nonetheless, higher amounts of AA than DHA would be required to keep the breast milk AA:DHA ratio constant at habitual values upon DHA supplementation,”​ they concluded.

Dr Maaike Bruins from DSM Food Specialties confirmed to NutraIngredients that no further studies are currently planned in this area.

Source: Journal of Nutrition​Volume 138, Pages 2190-2197“Dietary Arachidonic Acid Dose-Dependently Increases the Arachidonic Acid Concentration in Human Milk”​Authors: A.R. Weseler, C.E.H. Dirix, M.J. Bruins, G. Hornstra

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