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New evidence favors fortified baby formula

September 14, 2009 |  9:01 pm

The fatty acids DHA and ARA are credited with boosting the IQs of babies who are breast-fed. Both substances are abundant in breast milk, and they help build connections among neurons in the developing brain.

So it would stand to reason that adding DHA and ARA to infant formula would be good for babies. But the scientific evidence so far has been mixed.

Formula A new study published Tuesday in the journal Child Development finds that the two fatty acids do contribute to infant brain power -- under the right circumstances.

Texas researchers subjected 202 9-month-old babies to a series of problem-solving tests involving blankets and rattles. For example, the researchers placed a rattle out of reach on the far end of a blanket. The babies had to figure out that in order to grab the rattle, they had to pull the blanket toward them.

All of the babies in the study were on formula -- some since birth, some since they were weaned at 6 weeks, and some since they were 4 to 6 months old. The formula was distributed to parents as part of the study, and neither parents nor researchers knew which babies received regular Enfamil formula and which got a version fortified with DHA and ARA at levels comparable to breast milk.

For babies in the first two groups, those who got DHA and ARA had significantly higher scores on the problem-solving tests compared with their counterparts on regular formula. In addition, among babies who drank formula from Day One, the proportion that successfully completed all three tests was 51% in the DHA/ARA group and 29% in the control group. Among babies who were weaned at six weeks, the results were 46% for the DHA/ARA group and 13% for controls.

The results are meaningful because a baby’s ability to solve these kinds of tasks has been correlated with enhanced IQ and vocabulary development later in childhood, according to the study.

The babies who transitioned from breast milk to formula when they were 4 to 6 months did equally well on all of the tests whether they got the enhanced formula or not. Perhaps babies in that group hadn’t been drinking the supplemented formula long enough to get an IQ boost, the researchers speculated. Or maybe all of the babies had been fed naturally enhanced breast milk for so long that the fortified formula was superfluous.

Scientists have yet to nail down exactly how DHA and ARA contributes to higher IQ, but they speculate that the fatty acids collect in the central nervous system, thereby speeding brain processing. Some studies also suggest that DHA and ARA bolster the brain’s prefrontal cortex, making it easier for infants to shift their focus from one problem to another, allowing them to tackle more complicated tasks, according to the study.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (14)

While this article did not promote formula over breast feeding, the title of the article implies that. The title should state "New Evidence Promotes DHA/ARA Fortified Formula". There are enough problems in this country getting people back to breastfeeding which is best in almost all cases, without the media peinting titles implying otherwise!

I agree with Ms. Carder's comment - the title implies that fortified formula is favored over all alternatives. Sure, it made me click on the article, but that's not really fair. I would've read it either way...

Here we go: the breast feeding nazis and child abusers who breast feed their babies until age 5 are already posting. Yikes.

The title of the article is fair and objective; only a true LaLeche Nazi would find hidden agendas in the title.

Pitiful poor lepers can't get a life without forcing their deviancy upon America. Leave us women alone who wish to bottle feed. These are studies; not proof my pretty.

Bottle feeders unite.

+1 for Ms. Carder

let's get back to basics regarding pre/post natal care and childbirth. the US has the worst record of any industrialized nation with regard to these issues.

Agree with other commenters - title is inadequate. Obviously brevity is important but if meaning is distorted the whole game is lost. Unless of course the game is just to generate clicks, in which case this misleading title may be more effective than a title which merely confirms consensus opinion.
A news org of LATs stature should strive for clarity - the title, while factually true, falls short.
Perhaps this would have been better: New fortified formula outperforms predecessors
a few more characters but a more faithful meaning...

Intesting if you didn't already know. Mike Cooperstock

Breast Nazi Lady, the obnoxious and ignorant Republican/Democrat arguments are one article over. I think you posted in the wrong place.

"Here we go with the breast nazis" needs to get a clue! I am not a "breastfeeding nazi" and I didn't breastfeed (kids wouln't latch on). Breastmilk is best, that is what studies prove, even if this article doesn't site any of them. Read carefully:
The babies who transitioned from breast milk to formula when they were 4 to 6 months did equally well on all of the tests whether they got the enhanced formula or not. Perhaps babies in that group hadn’t been drinking the supplemented formula long enough to get an IQ boost, the researchers speculated. Or maybe all of the babies had been fed naturally enhanced breast milk for so long that the fortified formula was superfluous.

In other words, the study wasn't able to confirm anything against breastfeeding or for it, just that DHA and RHA helped those babies who drank formula supplemented with it. And breast milk already has it. And it's free.

Dear "HERE WE GO WITH THE BREAST NAZIS,"

There is really no need for your uninformed comments. Breasting feeding is best (for mother and baby) and there is no way around that fact. However, the medical and scientific fields ARE working to support bottle feeders (whose children are just as likely to be on the bottle until the age of 5 as a breastfeed baby is to be on the breast as you stated) by enhancing formula to provide as many of the benefits found in breastmilk as possible. The general public supports bottle feeding anyway. What are you complaining about?

Totally agree with Ms. Carder -- the title of the article is misleading and disingenuous. Of course breastfeeding is best for mother and baby, every study has proven that time and time again. But not everyone can do it, some try their best but it just doesn't work, so it's good to know what formula options are out there for those who can't breastfeed.


Nice to see someone doing science on milk and feeding babies, not just pushing pre-conceived opinion. Breast milk might be natural, but that is far from saying it is the only good way.

Twenty bucks says a formula company sponsored this study. :)

You are what you eat!!! Breast milk is best but the quality can vary. DHA is diet dependent. No DHA in the diet very little if any in the breast milk. Maybe we should all focus on whats more important: a healthy diet whether it be breast milk or formula.

I think that we just need to plan for the pregnancy - take vitamins so our body will be healthy and ready when it's time.



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