DHA Helps with Infant Cognitive Function

Supplementing infant formula with an essential fatty acid may boost babies 'brain power!

DHA is found in breast milk, and is thought to play a role in brain development. Researchers at the University of Texas South Western Medical Center compared babies given either traditional formula or formula supplemented with a high dose of DHA.

The study finds that infants who are fed baby formula supplemented with DHA, omega-3 fatty acid, that occurs naturally in breast milk, perform better on cognitive tasks than those fed on regular baby formula alone.

Researchers began feeding infants either regular formula or formula supplemented with DHA soon after birth, after 6 weeks of breastfeeding, or after 6 months of breastfeeding. At nine months of age, they found that those children who had been on the DHA formula after at least 6 weeks of breastfeeding were more likely than those on regular formula to be able to complete a problem-solving task.

When the babies were 9 months old, they were given a test in which they had to complete a series of tasks to get a rattle. The DHA group was more likely to get the toy.

"Currently, there is no clear consensus on whether infant formula should be supplemented with DHA," notes lead author James R. Drover, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest who is now assistant professor of psychology at Memorial University in Canada.

"However, our results clearly suggest that feeding infants formula supplemented with high concentrations of DHA provides beneficial effects on cognitive development. Furthermore, because infants who display superior performance on the means-end problem-solving task tend to have superior IQ and vocabulary later in childhood, it's possible that the beneficial effects of DHA extend well beyond infancy."

South Western Medical Center
-September 28, 2009