Adding two substances found in breast milk to infant formula boosted the average intelligence scores in a group of 18-month-old children significantly, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
The study, conducted by researchers at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas, appears in the March Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. The article is available on the journal's website at http://www.cup.cam.ac.uk/journals/dmc/birch.pdf . The study is one of several planned to determine if the substances are safe and effective and should be added to infant formulas in the U.S.
The substances, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), are fatty acids present in human breast milk and, prior to birth, are supplied through the placenta to the developing fetus. Both DHA and AA are believed to play a role in the development of the nervous system. Although not used in infant formulas in the U.S., both substances are routinely added to infant formula throughout Europe and Asia.
"This study is an important step in the comprehensive array of studies needed to determine whether these substances should be added to infant formula," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD.
In planning their study, the researchers sought to overcome the limitations of previous studies, which produced ambiguous results, explained the principal investigator, Eileen Birch, Ph.D. Some showed a positive effect on intelligence, others showed no effect, while another showed that DHA decreased vocabulary scores. Dr. Birch explained that some of the earlier studies showing no effect apparently did not use a sufficient amount of DHA to influence intelligence scores. In addition, the results of a large, multicenter study are difficult to interpret, because this large study used an earlier version of the Bayley Scales of Infant
Contact: Bob Bock
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development