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DHA in Infant Formula: Is it Safe?

Posted Feb 23 2010 12:00am
Photo by abbybatchelder DHA in infant formula causes diarrhea

DHA in infant formula causes diarrhea

I am guilty of being swayed by news of miracle supplements such as DHA.  DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils touted for benefiting nervous system development and prevention of heart disease.  I give my five-year-old son with verbal apraxia fish oil supplements, but the use of DHA in infant formulas has come under scrutiny lately for causing “severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and gastrointestinal pain”  In fact, the Cornucopia Institute is calling on the FDA to place warning labels on DHA containing infant formula .

While many scientists doubt the benefits of manufactured DHA and ARA oils, little doubt exists that at least a subset of the infant population experiences severe side effects, including watery, explosive diarrhea, severe vomiting, and gastrointestinal distress serious complications in this vulnerable population. Manufactured DHA and ARA fatty acids are structurally different from those found naturally in breastmilk. This structural difference may be one of many possible reasons why some infants experience such severe side effects.

Of course the breast is best, but many parents, for whatever reason, use formula and think DHA makes it more like breastmilk.  Parents only want to do what is best for their child, but unfortunately, parents aren’t informed of the risks of DHA and are swayed by info that it will make their children smarter. Consumer Federation of California explains:

If you believed a certain baby formula would make your child smarter, would you buy it?

Infant formula manufacturers are banking that you would. That’s why, since 2002, several companies have fortified their products with synthetic versions of DHA and ARA, long-chain fatty acids that occur naturally in breast milk and have been associated with brain development.

The oils are produced by Martek Biosciences Corp. from lab-grown algae and fungus and extracted with hexane, according to the company’s patent application. Hexane is a neurotoxin.

This is not breaking news, and the verdict is still out on the benefits of DHA.  Reading to your child, talking to your child, providing social and emotional stability, eating healthy foods, etc… this is what will make your child smarter.

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