Thursday, October 7, 2010

Omega-3 supplements for Vegetarians

Are plant sources of omega-3 sufficient for human needs?

Vegetarians and vegans have no direct sources of EPA and DHA (long chain omega-3 fatty acids) in the diet; hence they must convert alpha-linolenic acid to EPA and DHA in the body.

Scientific studies suggest that although the conversion is slow and incomplete, and although vegetarians tend to have lower blood levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, it is sufficient to meet the needs of most people

In addition, infants convert alpha-linolenic acid to DHA and EPA more slowly than adults. Studies have provided evidence that preterm infants do not have the capacity to form sufficient DHA, resulting in reduced visual acuity and brain function. Thus DHA must be considered an essential nutrient for these babies. Currently, infant formulas in the U.S. are not fortified with DHA, although several companies have patented DHA blends for this purpose and DHA-fortified formulas are expected to hit the U.S. market sometime this year. Several European countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and Spain, presently produce DHA-fortified formulas

Breastfed infants generally receive ample DHA from their mother's milk, although amounts vary. Vegetarian and vegan mothers have lower concentrations of DHA in their milk, although infant levels of DHA appear to be only slightly less than that of infants of omnivorous mothers. A DHA supplement based on cultured microalgae (under the trademark Neuromins) is now available from natural food stores nationwide.

So, one thing is clear, if someone takes fish, no issues.

If someone is purely vegetarian, may be for preterm child, we need some supplements. For a full term child, who is otherwise well, I will not suggest any supplementation unless more guidelines are available.

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