We aimed to assess the correlation between docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) dietary intake and the plasma, erythrocyte and breast milk DHA concentrations in lactating women residing in the coastland, lakeland and inland areas of China. A total of 408 healthy lactating women (42 ± 7 days postpartum) were recruited from four hospitals located in Weihai (coastland), Yueyang (lakeland) and Baotou (inland) city. The categories of food containing DHA, the average amount consumed per time and the frequency of consumption in the past month were assessed by a tailored DHA food frequency questionnaire, the DHA Intake Evaluation Tool (DIET). DHA dietary intake (mg/day) was calculated according to the Chinese Food Composition Table (Version 2009). In addition, fasting venous blood (5 mL) and breast milk (10 mL) were collected from lactating women. DHA concentrations in plasma, erythrocyte and breast milk were measured using capillary gas chromatography, and were reported as absolute concentration (μg/mL) and relative concentration (weight percent of total fatty acids, wt. %). Spearman correlation coefficients were used to assess the correlation between intakes of DHA and its concentrations in biological specimens. The study showed that the breast milk, plasma and erythrocyte DHA concentrations were positively correlated with DHA dietary intake; corresponding correlation coefficients were 0.36, 0.36 and 0.24 for relative concentration and 0.33, 0.32, and 0.18 for absolute concentration (p <
0.05). The median DHA dietary intake varied significantly across areas (p <
0.05), which was highest in the coastland (24.32 mg/day), followed by lakeland (13.69 mg/day), and lowest in the inland (8.84 mg/day). The overall relative and absolute DHA concentrations in breast milk were 0.36% ± 0.23% and 141.49 ± 107.41 μg/mL; the concentrations were significantly lower in inland women than those from coastland and lakeland. We conclude that DHA dietary intake is positively correlated with DHA concentrations in blood and breast milk in Chinese lactating women, suggesting that the tailored DHA food frequency questionnaire, DIET, is a valid tool for the assessment of DHA dietary intake.
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