Santiago de Chile — A research study published in Nutrition found that supplementation with Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) from chia oil in women during gestation and nursing modified the composition of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) in their breast milk. ALA is the precursor to DHA, which is crucial for brain and visual function, particularly in the development of children. The trial included forty healthy pregnant Chilean women (22–35 years old) randomly selected to be placed into two groups: a control group with normal feeding and a chia group which received 16 mL chia oil (from Benexia) daily from the third trimester of pregnancy until the first six months of nursing.
Results showed that there was a significant increase in ALA in the content of the milk as well as significantly increased milk content of DHA, but only for the first three months of nursing. Researchers were a bit surprised that DHA increased only for the first three months, decreasing afterwards to control levels but they hypothesize that there is high physiological control over the conversion of ALA to DHA.
The researchers state, “We hypothesize that the physiological control of the conversion of ALA to DHA is produced: (i) through a high regulation in the activity of the enzymes involved in elongation and desaturation, which set DHA at physiological concentrations; (ii) through the beta oxidation of exceeding ALA for energy production or carbon recycling; (iii) due to the fact that excess of PUFA and LCPUFA may increase milk susceptibility to oxidative rancidity with the risk of tissue oxidative stress in the child, however this last proposal requires further demonstration.”
This is welcome news to suppliers of chia for nutraceutical applications and dietary supplement manufacturers marketing ALA products. ALA is a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for vegans, but a debate has raged disputing its functionality compared to omega-3s from other sources such as fish oil that provide EPA and DHA.