Adding omega-3 DHA to infant formula boosts cognitive skills

September 16, 2009 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Adding omega-3 DHA to infant formula boosts cognitive skills

Babies fed formula supplemented with the essential fatty acid DHA appear to have higher cognitive skills than infants given standard formula, according to a new study from the Retina Foundation Southwest and the University of Texas.

Previous research has shown that breast-fed babies have more advanced cognitive skills than formula-fed babies and those capabilities appear to persist into later childhood. Scientists have suggested the difference could be due to high levels of DHA found naturally in breast milk.

In the current study, researchers at examined more than 200 infants randomly assigned to be fed either DHA-fortified formula or a standard formula.

The study included three groups of babies at different ages given one formula or the other: the first group within days of birth; the second group after six weeks of being breast-fed and weaned; and the third following four to six months of breastfeeding and weaning.

At nine months old, all the children were assessed using a problem-solving test in which they had to complete a sequence of steps to reach and grab hold of a rattle.

Children that were fed the DHA-supplemented formula were more likely to be successful on each try at the problem-solving test.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is found in high concentrations in the human brain and retina of the eyes. Dietary sources include oily fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines), omega-3 fortified eggs, flaxseed and walnuts.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months to a yeart to ensure that infants are getting appropriate levels of DHA to support eye and brain development.

While breastfeeding, women need to add more DHA-rich foods to their diets so their babies get enough of the nutrient in the breast milk.

This study appeared in the September-October 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

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