At birth, newborns see only vague shapes around them. Infancy and early childhood are periods of rapid eye development, with sharpness of vision developing during the first four years of life. Healthy vision plays a fundamental role in how infants and young children learn and perceive the world around them. Lutein, zeaxanthin, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), vitamin A and vitamin E are important nutrients for healthy development of an infant’s vision. During early life, infants obtain these essentials nutrients through breastmilk. 

Why Lutein and Zeaxanthin are Important

Science shows that lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants concentrated in the macula, located in the back of the eye, and in the brain. Because the human body cannot make lutein or zeaxanthin, we must consume these nutrients either from foods, such as leafy green vegetables, eggs and corn, or from supplements. For breast fed babies, colostrum and breastmilk are rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, with the concentrations in breastmilk  proportional to a mother’s intake of these nutrients.1

Lutein and zeaxanthin serve as filters of blue light, a type of light which has the potential to damage eyes. For the infant brain, research shows a preferential deposit of lutein compared to other antioxidants.2 FloraGLO Lutein supplementation has been shown to increase the antioxidant capacity in healthy, full-term newborns when administered very early in life.3

The Vital Role of DHA and ARA

DHA and ARA are the primary omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found breast milk. They are both present in all human cells. However, DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and the retina of the eye. ARA is the most abundant omega-6 fatty acid in the brain.

A mother’s intake of DHA during pregnancy influences the DHA status of the mother,  her developing baby and her growing infant infant after birth. Breast milk naturally contains both DHA and ARA.  Brain,4-10 vision6,11,12 and immune function13-15 benefits were reported in the children of mothers who had a higher DHA intake and/or status during pregnancy. Maternal and infant DHA status16 during lactation is also important. 

Supplementation of breast feeding mothers during lactation with algal DHA increased the DHA content of her breast milk and the status of her infant. This resulted in cognitive benefits at 30 months of age17,18 and 5 years of age19. This suggests a programing effect as the benefits continued well past the point of supplementation

Other Vital Nutrients

Vitamin A as retinal is a structural component of the visual pigments of cells in the retina that detect light, supporting night vision. Vitamin A and vitamin E are both key to normal eye development. A severe deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness. Vitamin E protects the eyes against damage by fighting free radicals as an antioxidant.  

 

 

 

 

References: 

1. American Academy of Pediatrics, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/default.aspx, 2018.

2. Cena H et al. Public Health Nutr. 12(10): p. 1878-84.

3. Vishwanathan et al. Lutein and preterm infants with decreased concentrations of brain carotenoids. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Nov; 59(5):659-65.

4. Perrone S et al. Oxid Med Cell Longevity 2014: Article 781454, 2014.

5. Campoy C et al. Effects of prenatal fish-oil and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate supplementation on cognitive development of children at 6.5 y of age. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011. 94(6 Suppl): p. 1880S‐1888S.

6. Judge MP et al. Maternal consumption of a DHA-containing functional food benefits infant sleep patterning: an early neurodevelopmental measure. Early Hum Dev, 2012. 88(7): p. 531‐7.

7. Judge MP, O Harel, and CJ Lammi‐Keefe, Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid‐containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007. 85(6): p. 1572‐7.

8. Colombo J et al. Maternal DHA and the development of attention in infancy and toddlerhood. Child Dev, 2004. 75(4): p. 1254-67.

9. Dunstan JA et al. Cognitive assessment of children at age 2(1/2) years after maternal fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2008. 93(1): p. F45-50.

10. Escolano-Margarit MV et al. Prenatal DHA status and neurological outcome in children at age 5.5 years are positively associated. J Nutr. 2011. 141(6): p. 1216‐23.

11. Hammond BR, Johnson DJ, Russell RM, Krinsky NI, Yeum K-J, Edwards RB, and Snodderly DM. Dietary modification of human macular pigment density. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 38:1795-1801, 1997.

12.  Judge MP, O. Harel, and CJ Lammi‐Keefe. A docosahexaenoic acid‐functional food during pregnancy benefits infant visual acuity at four but not six months of age. Lipids, 2007. 42(2): p. 117‐22.

13. Innis SM and RW Friesen. Essential n-3 fatty acids in pregnant women and early visual acuity maturation in term infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008. 87(3): p. 548-57.

14. Malcolm CA et al. Maternal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy and visual evoked potential development in term infants: a double blind, prospective, randomised trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2003. 88(5): p. F383-90.

15. Furuhjelm C et al. Fish oil supplementation in pregnancy and lactation may decrease the risk of infant allergy. Acta Paediatr. 2009. 98(9): p. 1461‐7.

16. Jensen CL, Maude M, Anderson RE, Heird WC. Effect of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation of lactating women on the fatty acid  composition of breast milk lipids and maternal and infant plasma phospholipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):292S-9S.

17. Jensen CL, Prager TC, Zou Y, Fraley JK, Maude M, Anderson RE, Heird WC. Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on visual function and growth of breast-fed term infants. Lipids. 1999;34 Suppl:S225.

18. Jensen CL, Voigt RG, Prager TC, Zou YL, Fraley JK, Rozelle JC, Turcich MR, Llorente AM, Anderson RE, Heird WC. Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breastfed term infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jul;82(1):125

19. Jensen CL, Voigt RG, Llorente AM, Peters SU, Prager TC, Zou YL, Rozelle JC, Turcich MR, Fraley JK, Anderson RE, Heird WC. Effects of early maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on neuropsychological status and visual acuity at five years of age of breast-fed term infants. J Pediatr 2010 Dec; 157(6):900-5.