This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effect of modifying 18-carbon PUFA [18-C PUFA: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) and linoleic acid (LA, 18:2n-6)] in the diets of term and preterm infants on DHA (22:6n-3) status, growth, and developmental outcomes.
Only randomized controlled trials (RCT) involving formula-fed term and preterm infants, in which the 18-C PUFA composition of the formula was changed and growth or developmental outcomes were measured, were included. Differences were presented as control (standard formula) and treatment (18-C PUFA-supplemented formula).
Primary analyses for term infants were 4 and 12 mon and for preterm infants 37-42 and 57 wk postmenstrual age. Five RCT involving term infants and three RCT involving preterm infants were included in the systematic review. Infants fed ALA-supplemented formula had significantly higher plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid DHA levels than control infants. There was no effect of ALA supplementation on the growth of preterm infants.
In term infants, ALA supplementation was associated with increased weight and length at 12 mon, which was at least 4 mon after the end of dietary intervention. Developmental indices of term infants did not differ between groups. There was a transient improvement in the retinal function of preterm infants fed ALA-supplemented diets compared with controls.
The findings suggest that ALA-supplemented diets improve the DHA status of infants. Further studies are needed to provide convincing evidence regarding the effects of ALA supplementation of formula on infant growth and development.
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