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Fat in Formula for Brainier Babies?

Smarter Baby Formula
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WebMD Feature

Nov. 28, 2001 -- All agree that when it comes to feeding babies, breast milk is best. Infant formula manufacturers even market their products by claiming they are as close as possible to mother's milk.

But in the United States, at least, commercial baby formulas are missing key ingredients of breast milk, which studies suggest help improve both visual and cognitive development. That could all change within the next year, however, if the FDA approves the addition of two essential fatty acids to infant formulas.

The fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are already available in commercial infant formulas in 60 countries. And proponents say adding the fats found in breast milk to formulas in this country is a no-brainer.

"Pediatricians who are educated about DHA have been trying to get it into infant formula for the last decade," says California pediatrician Bill Sears, MD, who has written more than 30 books on infant development and parenting.

"The science is overwhelming that it is beneficial in terms of cognitive development. But even without the science it would be obvious because nature makes very few mistakes. And there is a large amount of DHA in breast milk."

Sears points out that an infant's brain triples in size during the first year of life, and that the brain is 60% fat. The natural conclusion, he says, is that one of the most important nutrients for the human brain is fat.

"If the formula companies are going to make the claim that they are close to mother's milk, then wouldn't it make sense to put in the fat that mother's milk has?," he says.

Cognitive Studies

Last May, the FDA officially affirmed the safety of DHA and AA for use in infant formulas, but it still must approve specific requests by formula manufacturers to put the oils in their products.

"I would be very surprised if we don't see formula on the shelves with DHA and AA within the next year," says Angela Tsetsis, director of marketing for Martek Biosciences of Columbia, Md., which manufacturers the algae-derived fatty acid oils.

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