Role of DHA in Child’s Brain Development

Childhood is a period of brain growth and maturation. To help your child grow up to be a happy and
healthy adult, you need to focus on both his mental and physical development. So, it is not enough to
provide him / her with sufficient carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, one also need to
focus on omega-3 fatty acids. Among omega – 3 fatty acids, DHA is one such acid that plays a crucial role
in the brain development of a toddler.

DHA is also an essential nutrient throughout our lives. But this fatty acid has a unique significance for
infants. That’s because, during the earliest months and years of life, DHA helps to fuel an incredible pace
of growth and development of the brain.

What is DHA?
Docosahexaenoic Acid, which is known as DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for the
development of the foetal brain, and motor skills and visual acuity in children. It is the key structural
component of nerve cells and is considered essential for the growth and brain development of the kids.

What are the sources of DHA?
Very few food sources have high levels of DHA. This is the reason why most children suffer from a low
intake of DHA in absence of specific DHA rich diet.

Some of the primary sources of DHA includes fishes like Indian salmon, rohu, pomfret, and hilsa. Fish oil,
like cod liver oil, is also a very good source of DHA.

Vegetarian sources like walnuts, flaxseeds, soybeans, and canola oil are also the good source of DHA ,
which can be consumed by Vegetarians.

Brain development and importance of DHA
The brain of your baby undergoes a period of rapid growth during the last trimester of pregnancy, and
the first 2 years of childhood. There is a rapid increase in brain weight from birth to the time he or she
becomes 2 years of age. This is the period of brain growth spurt, during which, nutrient insufficiency can
significantly impact brain function.

Several processes like myelination of the brain’s frontal lobes start very early, at around 6 months of
age. Myelination is an important process where each neuron is coated with a protective fatty layer
called myelin. The availability of adequate DHA in the tissues is important for this process. The frontal
lobes of the brain are rich in DHA and are thought to be responsible for effective planning, problemsolving, and focused attention. The development of high-level cognitive functions is associated with the
child’s social, emotional and behavioural development.

Rapid neuronal maturation, synaptogenesis, and grey matter expansion happen during infancy,
childhood, and adolescence. Accumulation of a sufficient amount of DHA in the brain is important to
support these vital functions.

DHA has several positive effects on the central nervous system too, specifically on the brain and retinal
development, which are responsible for foetal maturation, infant development, and visual acuity.
Some positive effects of DHA are as follows:

• DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that supports brain tissue growth and function, especially during
infancy and development.
• Accumulation of DHA in the CNS is essential for the normal development of eyes and brain.
• Sufficient levels of DHA are needed for the development of grey matter and frontal lobes. These
regions in the brain can process information, store memories, and regulate emotions. These
regions are also essential for problem-solving, sustained attention, planning, and behavioural

How does DHA help boost the learning ability and memory of a toddler?
Low levels of DHA are reported in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia,
or dyspraxia. ADHD is a condition where the child finds it challenging to pay attention and control
impulsive behaviour. Dyslexia is a learning disorder where the child has difficulty in reading and
identifying speech sounds. Children with dyspraxia find it challenging to do activities that require
movements and coordination. However, providing DHA supplements can improve their symptoms.
DHA insufficiency is also observed in some healthy children, without learning or behavioural problems,
because of poor intake. Improvement of DHA status can benefit them, especially during the growth
spurt phase.