Food and Behaviour Research

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Essential fatty acids in the nutrition of severely neurologically disabled children

Hals, J., Bjerve, K.S., Nilsen, H., Svalastog, A.G., Ek, J. (2000) British Journal of Nutrition 83(3) 219-25. 

Web URL: This abstract can be viewed on Medline here


Essential fatty acids (EFA) are important for the normal development and functioning of the brain, retina and immune competent cells. Severely neurologically handicapped children often have feeding difficulties, and the composition of the diet may be critical with respect to an optimal nutrient content.

The aim of the present investigation was to evaluate if the dietary intakes and serum phospholipid concentrations of EFA were adequate in a group of severely neurologically impaired children in an institution.

To achieve this, a prospective study was done. The investigation showed low dietary intakes of both n-6 fatty acids (FA) and n-3 FA. The serum concentrations of total n-6 FA, linoleic acid and 22:6n-3 (docosahexaenoic acid) as proportions of the total serum phospholipid FA concentration were initially low. The serum concentrations of 20:3n-9 and 22:5n-6 cholesterol, triacylglycerol, total saturated FA, total monounsaturated FA and apolipoproteins A-I and B were high compared with levels in a reference group of healthy children.

Following supplementation with fish oil and soyabean oil, the serum lipid profile approached normal. We conclude that the study children had suboptimal intakes of EFA and that elevated serum concentrations of 20:3n-9 and 22:5n6 were useful serological markers of suboptimal EFA status.

Recommended dietary allowances for EFA given as a percentage of energy underestimate EFA requirements in children with a low energy intake. Severely disabled children with feeding difficulties should probably be monitored with serum phospholipid FA measurements or calculation of dietary absolute intakes of EFA.