Daily Enteral DHA Supplementation Alleviates Deficiency in Premature Infants

Michelle L. Baack, Susan E. Puumala, Stephen E. Messier, Deborah K. Pritchett, William S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential fatty acid (FA) important for health and neurodevelopment. Premature infants are at risk of DHA deficiency and circulating levels directly correlate with health outcomes. Most supplementation strategies have focused on increasing DHA content in mother's milk or infant formula. However, extremely premature infants may not reach full feedings for weeks and commercially available parenteral lipid emulsions do not contain preformed DHA, so blood levels decline rapidly after birth. Our objective was to develop a DHA supplementation strategy to overcome these barriers. This double-blind, randomized, controlled trial determined feasibility, tolerability and efficacy of daily enteral DHA supplementation (50 mg/day) in addition to standard nutrition for preterm infants (24-34 weeks gestational age) beginning in the first week of life. Blood FA levels were analyzed at baseline, full feedings and near discharge in DHA (n = 31) or placebo supplemented (n = 29) preterm infants. Term peers (n = 30) were analyzed for comparison. Preterm infants had lower baseline DHA levels (p < 0.0001). Those receiving DHA had a progressive increase in circulating DHA over time (from 3.33 to 4.09 wt% or 2.88 to 3.55 mol%, p < 0.0001) while placebo-supplemented infants (receiving standard neonatal nutrition) had no increase over time (from 3.35 to 3.32 wt% or 2.91 to 2.87 mol%). Although levels increased with additional DHA supplementation, preterm infants still had lower blood DHA levels than term peers (4.97 wt% or 4.31 mol%) at discharge (p = 0.0002). No differences in adverse events were observed between the groups. Overall, daily enteral DHA supplementation is feasible and alleviates deficiency in premature infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-433
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Essential dietary lipids
  • Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA)
  • Neonatal nutrition
  • Premature infants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Cell Biology


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