Fat in Formula for Brainier Babies?
Smarter Baby Formula
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
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
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
"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.
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.
Tsetsis says formula companies will probably not put the fatty
acids in all of their products. Instead, they will offer formulas with and
without them until they determine consumer demand.
"Five years ago you wouldn't find too many parents, and not
even many doctors, who knew about DHA and AA," says nutritionist Barbara
Levine, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at New York City's Rockefeller
University. "Now it has been in the press, and people are becoming more
aware of it. And the recent studies have been very favorable."
In a widely-cited recent study, researchers from Dallas' Retina
Foundation of the Southwest, reported that babies fed infant formula enriched
with DHA and AA were cognitively advanced when compared with babies who
received commercially available formulas without the fatty acids.