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New Formulas May Help Infant Vision

March 18, 2002 -- Previous studies have shown that adding healthy fatty acids to baby formula can speed brain development. Now, new research shows that a benefit is also seen in the part of the brain that controls vision.

A new study shows that babies fed formula containing a type of fatty acids known as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP) have better vision than those who didn't receive the fortified formula, and babies must receive either the special formula or breast milk during the first three months.

"A clear difference was present at nine to 11 weeks after weaning, and the acuity difference persisted at 26 and 52 weeks of age," writes Eileen E. Birch, MD, a researcher with the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas. Her study appears in the most recent issue of the AmericanJournal of Clinical Nutrition.

Mead Johnson, a WebMD sponsor, provided the supplemented formula.

In the study, researchers looked at 65 full-term infants who were breastfed during the first six weeks of life. They randomly assigned the babies to be weaned to LCP-supplemented formula or regular formula during weeks seven through 52.

Regular-formula babies had significantly poorer vision at weeks 17, 26, and 52 than the LCP-formula babies.

Babies fed LCP-supplemented formula at least until week 11 had much better visual development, and the beneficial effects were still seen at the end of the study -- a full year.

Breast milk also contains these healthy fatty acids. So, all the babies were exposed to the fatty acids for the first six weeks of life. But those switched to regular formula after six weeks did not show the vision benefits seen in the babies fed LCP formula.