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On April 7-9, 1999, an international working group of scientists met at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland (USA) to discuss the scientific evidence relative to dietary recommendations of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (Simopoulos, et al., 1999). The latest scientific evidence based on controlled intervention trials in infant nutrition, cardiovascular disease, and mental health was extensively discussed. Tables A1 and A2 include the Adequate Intakes (AI) for omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids for adult and infant formula/diet, respectively.

Adults. The working group recognized that there are not enough data to determine Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), but there are good data to make recommendations for Adequate Intakes (AI) for Adults as shown in Table A1.

Pregnancy and Lactation. For pregnancy and lactation, the recommendations are the same as those for adults with the additional recommendation seen in footnote b of Table 2, that during pregnancy and lactation women must ensure a DHA intake of 300 mg/d.

Composition of Infant Formula/Diet. It was thought of utmost importance to focus on the composition of the infant formula considering the large number of premature infants around the world, the low number of women who breast-feed, and the need for proper nutrition of the sick infant. The composition of the infant formula/diet was based on studies that demonstrated support for both the growth and neural development of infants in a manner similar to that of the breast-fed infant (Table A2).

One recommendation deserves explanation here. After much discussion, consensus was reached on the importance of reducing the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) even as the omega-3 PUFAs are increased in the diet of adults and newborns for optimal brain and cardiovascular health and function. This is necessary to reduce adverse effects of excesses of arachidonic acid and its eicosanoid products. Such excesses can occur when too much LA and AA are present in the diet and an adequate supply of dietary omega-3 fatty acids is not available. The adverse effects of too much arachidonic acid and its eicosanoids can be avoided by two interdependent dietary changes. First, the amount of plant oils rich in LA, the parent compound of the omega-6 class, which is converted to AA, needs to be reduced. Second, simultaneously the omega-3 PUFAs need to be increased in the diet. LA can be converted to arachidonic acid and the enzyme, A-6 desaturase, necessary to desaturate it, is the same one necessary to desaturate ALA, the parent compound of the omega-3 class; each competes with the other for this desaturase. The presence of LNA in the diet can inhibit the conversion of the large amounts of LA in the diets of Western industrialized countries, which contain too much dietary plant oils rich in omega-6 PUFAs (e.g., corn, safflower, and soybean oils). The increase of LNA, together with EPA and DHA, and reduction of vegetable oils with high LA content, are necessary to achieve a healthier diet in these countries.

Table A1

Adequate Intakes^ for Adults

Fatty acid

Grams/d (2000 kcal diet)

% Energy

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