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Maternal nutrition, infants and children

Effect of dietary intervention to reduce the n-6/n-3 fatty acid ratio on maternal and fetal fatty acid profile and its relation to offspring growth and body composition at 1 year of age



Evidence is accumulating that the long-chain PUFA (LCPUFA) are associated with offspring growth and body composition. We investigated the relationship between LCPUFAs in red blood cells (RBCs) of pregnant women/breastfeeding mothers and umbilical cord RBCs of their neonates with infant growth and body composition 1 year of age.


In an open-label randomized, controlled trial, 208 healthy pregnant women received a dietary intervention (daily supplementation with 1200 mg n-3 LCPUFAs and dietary counseling to reduce arachidonic acid (AA) intake) from the 15th week of gestation until 4 months of lactation or followed their habitual diet. Fatty acids of plasma phospholipids (PLs) and RBCs from maternal and cord blood were determined and associated with infant body weight, body mass index (BMI), lean body mass and fat mass assessed by skinfold thickness measurements and ultrasonography.


Dietary intervention significantly reduced the n-6/n-3 LCPUFA ratio in maternal and cord-blood plasma PLs and RBCs. Maternal RBCs docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), n-3 LCPUFAs and n-6 LCPUFAs at the 32nd week of gestation were positively related to birth weight. Maternal n-3 LCPUFAs, n-6 LCPUFAs and AA were positively associated with birth length. Maternal RBCs AA and n-6 LCPUFAs were significantly negatively related to BMI and Ponderal Index at 1 year postpartum, but not to fat mass.


Maternal DHA, AA, total n-3 LCPUFAs and n-6 LCPUFAs might serve as prenatal growth factors, while n-6 LCPUFAs also seems to regulate postnatal growth. The maternal n-6/n-3 LCPUFA ratio does not appear to have a role in adipose tissue development during early postnatal life.

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We thank all mothers and their infants for participating in the INFAT-study. This study was funded by grants from the Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation, Bad Homburg; the International Unilever Foundation, Hamburg; the EU-funded EARNEST (Early Nutrition Programming Project) consortium (FOOD-CT-2005-007036), administratively facilitated by Frank Wiens; the German Ministry of Education and Research via the Competence Network on Obesity (Kompetenznetz Adipositas, GF-GFGI01120708); and Danone Research – Center for Specialised Nutrition, Friedrichsdorf, Germany. NB and GB are employees at Danone Research. Trial registry:, number ID NCT00362089,

Author contributions

HH, UAG and CV designed research; BLB, NB and GB gave scientific advice; DM, CV, SB, DS and EMS were responsible for data collection and trial management; EH performed ultrasound measurements; NB and GB performed fatty acid analyses; MB and DM analyzed the data; DM wrote the manuscript; HH had primary responsibility for final content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to H Hauner.

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There was no intervention from any sponsor with any of the research aspects of the study including study design, intervention, data collection, data analysis and interpretation as well as writing of the manuscript. The analysis of fatty acids was performed by the Laboratory of Lipid Research, Danone Research – Center for Specialised Nutrition using coded samples, but there was no involvement in data analysis.

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Much, D., Brunner, S., Vollhardt, C. et al. Effect of dietary intervention to reduce the n-6/n-3 fatty acid ratio on maternal and fetal fatty acid profile and its relation to offspring growth and body composition at 1 year of age. Eur J Clin Nutr 67, 282–288 (2013).

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