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BACKGROUND: Ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) are lipid-based pastes widely used in the treatment of acute malnutrition. Current specifications for RUTF permit a high n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) content and low n-3 PUFA, with no stipulated requirements for preformed long-chain n-3 PUFA. The objective of this study was to develop an RUTF with elevated short-chain n-3 PUFA and measure its impact, with and without fish oil supplementation, on children's PUFA status during treatment of severe acute malnutrition. METHODS: This randomized controlled trial in children with severe acute malnutrition in rural Kenya included 60 children aged 6 to 50 months who were randomized to receive i) RUTF with standard composition; ii) RUTF with elevated short chain n-3 PUFA; or iii) RUTF with elevated short chain n-3 PUFA plus fish oil capsules. Participants were followed-up for 3 months. The primary outcome was erythrocyte PUFA composition. RESULTS: Erythrocyte docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content declined from baseline in the two arms not receiving fish oil. Erythrocyte long-chain n-3 PUFA content following treatment was significantly higher for participants in the arm receiving fish oil than for those in the arms receiving RUTF with elevated short chain n-3 PUFA or standard RUTF alone: 3 months after enrollment, DHA content was 6.3% (interquartile range 6.0-7.3), 4.5% (3.9-4.9), and 3.9% (2.4-5.7) of total erythrocyte fatty acids (P <0.001), respectively, while eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) content was 2.0% (1.5-2.6), 0.7% (0.6-0.8), and 0.4% (0.3-0.5) (P <0.001). RUTF with elevated short chain n-3 PUFA and fish oil capsules were acceptable to participants and carers, and there were no significant differences in safety outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: PUFA requirements of children with SAM are not met by current formulations of RUTF, or by an RUTF with elevated short-chain n-3 PUFA without additional preformed long-chain n-3 PUFA. Clinical and growth implications of revised formulations need to be addressed in large clinical trials. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT01593969. Registered 4 May 2012.

Original publication

DOI

10.1186/s12916-015-0315-6

Type

Journal article

Journal

BMC Med

Publication Date

23/04/2015

Volume

13

Keywords

Acute Disease, Child, Preschool, Dietary Supplements, Docosahexaenoic Acids, Double-Blind Method, Eicosapentaenoic Acid, Fast Foods, Fatty Acids, Omega-3, Fatty Acids, Unsaturated, Female, Fish Oils, Humans, Infant, Kenya, Lipids, Male, Malnutrition