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Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in early brain development, affecting learning, memory, mood, and behavior. The three main omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
DHA, an important component of the membrane that surrounds brain cells called neurons, is particularly vital for healthy brain development and function. DHA accumulates in the fetal brain from the last trimester of pregnancy to about two years of age. This critical period of infant brain development lays the groundwork for a lifetime of complex brain processes.
Studies show that the brain volume achieved at the end of the first year of life plays a major role in later intelligence, and higher DHA levels during infancy are linked to improved measures of intelligence in preschoolers. Getting enough DHA —along with the other main omega-3s—is important to set a solid foundation for cognitive milestones.
Although adequate intakes (AIs) are not yet known for the individual fatty acids EPA and DHA, the National Academy of Medicine has established AIs for total omega-3s in the first year of life (usually obtained through breast milk), as well as AIs for ALA for older children. The human body can make some DHA and EPA from ALA, but not a lot; foods or supplements containing EPA and DHA are your best options.
|Age||Adequate daily intake|
|up to 12 months||0.5 g total omega-3s|
|1 to 3 years||0.7 g ALA|
|4 to 8 years||0.9 g ALA|
|9 to 13 years, females||1.0 g ALA|
|9 to 13 years, males||1.2 g ALA|
|14 to 18 years, females||1.1 g ALA|
|14 to 18 years, males||1.6 g ALA|