Changes in polyunsaturated fatty acids during treatment of malnourished children may be insufficient to reach required essential fatty acid levels - A randomised controlled trial

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Background & aims: Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a global concern. Studies on the impact of ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) on polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are almost non-existent. The aim was to investigate the change in whole-blood PUFA and nutrition and health markers among Cambodian children with SAM after treatment with RUTFs.

Methods: The trial was an 8-week randomised clinical trial of the effectiveness of locally produced fish-based RUTF (L-RUTF) vs standard milk-based RUFT (S-RUTF). Whole-blood fatty acids were analysed using dried blood spots. Nutrition and health markers were assessed using anthropometric assessment and blood samples for markers of inflammation. The trial was conducted at the National Pediatric Hospital, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with one hundred and twenty-one 6-59-month-old children in treatment for SAM.

Results: L-RUTF had a higher content of n-3 PUFA and a higher content of arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while S-RUTF had the highest content of n-6 PUFA. At baseline, the children presented with a Mead acid level in whole-blood of around 0.08% of total fatty acids (FA%) and an omega-3 index of ∼0.91 ± 0.44. After eight weeks of S-RUTF treatment, linoleic acid (LA), AA, n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio, and Mead acid levels were increased. The L-RUTF intervention did not change the whole-blood PUFAs from baseline. At discharge, the children in the L-RUTF group had a lower n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio than the children in the S-RUTF group, driven by a lower alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (0.20 vs 0.27 FA%, p = 0.004) and lower LA (15.77 vs 14.21 FA%, p = 0.018) with no significant differences in AA or DHA levels. Weight-for-height z-score at discharge was negatively associated with total PUFA (β -1.4 FA%, 95%CI. -2.7; -0.1), n-6 LCPUFA (β -1.3 FA%, 95%CI. -1.3; -0.3), and AA (β -0.6 FA%, 95%CI. -1.0; -0.2). Age-adjusted height was negatively associated with the Mead acid:AA ratio (β -1.2 FA%, 95%CI. -2.2; -0.2). No significant change was seen in inflammation markers within groups or between groups during treatment, and n-3 and n-6 PUFAs were not associated with markers of inflammation or haemoglobin status at discharge.

Conclusion: The trial found that whole-blood markers of PUFA status were low in children at admission and discharge from SAM treatment, indicating that the currently recommended composition of RUTFs are not able to correct their compromised essential fatty acid status. The higher content of DHA and AA in L-RUTF did not give rise to any improvement in PUFA status. No changes in health markers or associations between PUFA and health markers were found.

Trial registration: NCT02907424.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1778-1787
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Science - Changes in fatty acids, Polyunsaturated fatty acids, Whole-blood, Treatment, Severe acutely malnourished children, Cambodia

ID: 362104322