EFSA issues omega-3 DHA levels and wording advice

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dha Docosahexaenoic acid European food safety authority

DHA-related brain and eye health claims for infants have been backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), after it issued advice this month at the request of the European Commission.

EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) said DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) levels of 100mg of per day were appropriate for 7-24 month-old infants along with 200mg per day for pregnant and lactating women.

Another shorter chain, omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha linolenic acid), was affirmed as important for the normal brain development of children up to the age of 18 but no levels were specified.

DHA brain and eye claims

The three DHA claims stated:

  • “DHA intake can contribute to normal brain development of the foetus, infant and young children”
  • “DHA intake can contribute to normal development of the eye of the foetus, infant and young children”
  • “DHA intake can contribute to the visual development of the infant”

The NDA said any more specific brain and eye functions would need to be backed by further science.

“Please note that developmental steps are not directly related to cognitive functions as it may depend on brain domains and areas,” ​NDA head of unit, Dr Juliane Kleiner wrote in the advice. “Therefore to support a claim for DHA and cognitive function more studies using different parameters would be needed.”

Industry response

Adam Ismail, the executive director of the Global Organization for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), welcomed the advice as, “a very positive development”.

“The conditions of use that they are proposing for DHA is consistent both with the science and also for the products that are being marketed commercially, so EFSA’s proposed wordings and dosages should not have a major impact on the recommendations.”

Maryland-based global DHA leader, Martek Biosciences, which had its own article 14 children’s eye and brain development claim rejected by the NDA in September, 2008, said the advice would help its customers refine DHA marketing efforts.

“More defined daily intake recommendations as well as better defined claims language will enable manufacturers to better communicate the health benefits, and will further encourage the awareness and intake of DHA in European Union consumers, whose DHA intakes are typically lower than optimal,”​ said Martek’s senior public relations manager, Cassie France-Kelly.

“We look forward to receiving further EFSAs guidance on DHA claims language and believe that this latest draft decision indicates that EFSA is recognising the strong science supporting the important health benefits of DHA.”


While welcoming the recommendations, Ismail remained concerned by what he sees as an inconsistent approach to longer and shorter-chain fatty acids.

“We would prefer that EFSA evaluated both claims in the same fashion,”​ he said, noting the ALA extension to 18-year-olds as an example. Applying a similar logic to some of the brain and eye health claims so far rejected by EFSA (including Martek’s) would have delivered different verdicts, he observed.

“None of the evidence submitted to EFSA for the ALA brain development claim supports the use of the claim in that population. EFSA notes that ALA is considered essential, but just because a nutrient is considered essential does not mean a claim on a specific use should not be supported by the evidence…Multiple randomized, well-controlled trials in children up to one year should be more than enough for a [specific] DHA claim to be granted for children up to one year of age.”

EFSA’s DHA advice can be found here​.

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