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Diet High in DHA May Benefit Girls Born Prematurely

Premature girls -- but not boys -- receiving extra DHA scored higher on test of mental development

TUESDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- In premature girls, a diet containing high-dose docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) was associated with improved scores at 18 months' corrected age on a test of mental development, according to research published in the Jan. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Maria Makrides, Ph.D., of the Women's and Children's Hospital in North Adelaide, Australia, and colleagues analyzed data from 614 infants born at less than 33 weeks' gestation who were randomized to a diet high in DHA or with standard DHA. The high DHA levels were attained by giving lactating mothers tuna oil capsules or giving infants high-DHA formula. The intervention started on day two to four of life and lasted until infants reached their expected delivery date.

On the Bayley Mental Development Index at 18 months -- the primary outcome -- girls on the high-DHA diet scored higher than girls on the standard diet (adjusted mean difference, 4.5), the investigators found. The score among boys did not differ between groups, the researchers report.

"The lack of responsiveness of boys to the intervention is puzzling, and the reasons are unclear but may relate to the higher rate of endogenous synthesis of DHA from the precursor fatty acid α-linolenic acid in girls compared with boys," the authors write. "It may be that the higher synthetic capacity of girls coupled with the extra dietary DHA was sufficient to meet their dietary requirements, while boys may require a higher DHA dose."

Several co-authors disclosed relationships with companies including Nestle, Nutricia and Wyeth.

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