Between 6 and 12 mo of age, blood levels of the (n-3) long-chain PUFA, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in breast-fed infants typically decrease due to diminished maternal DHA stores and the introduction of DHA-poor solid foods displacing human milk as the primary source of nutrition. Thus, we utilized a randomized, clinical trial format to evaluate the effect of supplemental DHA in solid foods on visual development of breast-fed infants with the primary outcome, sweep visual-evoked potential (VEP) acuity, as an index for maturation of the retina and visual cortex.

At 6 mo of age, breast-fed infants were randomly assigned to receive 1 jar (113 g)/d of baby food containing egg yolk enriched with DHA (115 mg DHA/100 g food; n = 25) or control baby food (0 mg DHA; n = 26). Gravimetric measures were used to estimate the supplemental DHA intake which was 83 mg DHA/d in the supplemented group and 0 mg/d in controls.

Although many infants in both groups continued to breast-feed for a mean of 9 mo, RBC DHA levels decreased significantly between 6 and 12 mo (from 3.8 to 3.0 g/100 g total fatty acids) in control infants, whereas RBC DHA levels increased by 34% from 4.1 to 5.5 g/100 g by 12 mo in supplemented infants. VEP acuity at 6 mo was 0.49 logMAR (minimum angle of resolution) and improved to 0.29 logMAR by 12 mo in controls. In DHA-supplemented infants, VEP acuity was 0.48 logMAR at 6 mo and matured to 0.14 logMAR at 12 mo (1.5 lines on the eye chart better than controls). At 12 mo, the difference corresponded to 1.5 lines on the eye chart.

RBC DHA levels and VEP acuity at 12 mo were correlated (r = -0.50; P = 0.0002), supporting the need of an adequate dietary supply of DHA throughout 1 y of life for neural development.