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Baby Nutrition – University of Texas Study finds Supplementing Babies’ Formula with DHA Boost Cognitive Development

Posted Oct 27 2009 11:00pm

By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

Research has previously shown breastfed babies have higher cognitive skills than formula fed babies, and a recent study finds further evidence for this notion.   Several studies have confirmed the superior cognitive skills of breastfed babies, but the reasons why were speculative – until now that is.  The enhanced brain function may be due the abundance of an essential fatty acid called DHA or docosahexaenoic acid naturally found in breast milk.

DHA has been known to aid in cognition and more and more infant formula companies have begun to add supplemental DHA to their formulas.  The study, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest, used a more sensitive test of infants’ cognitive skills and higher concentrations of DHA than in previous studies.

Published in the most recent issue of the Child Development, the study examined 229 babies who received either regular infant formula or formula supplemented with DHA. The infants were given the formula shortly after birth, after 6 weeks of breastfeeding, or after 4 to 6 months of breastfeeding.  At 9 months old, the babies were then given a problem solving test which involved following sequential steps in order to obtain a rattle.

The babies who were fed the DHA fortified formula were more likely to get the rattle as well as exhibiting more intentional behaviors that allowed them to get the rattle.  Study authors note that there currently is no conclusion as to whether or not infant formula should be supplemented with DHA yet go on to say this study clearly illustrates the positively associated effects of DHA and infant cognitive development which may extend beyond infancy.  While it may be some time before DHA becomes universally added to infant formula, breast milk doesn’t require fortification, is rich in DHA, and provides the best of what Mother Nature has to offer.

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