Frequently Asked Questions About Formula

What About This New Added Supplement?

7. I've heard about a new supplement being added to formulas. Should I make sure to buy it for my baby?

In their quest to make formula more like breast milk, manufacturers are considering adding two polyunsaturated fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) to formula. These nutrients, naturally present in breast milk and already in formulas in Europe and Japan, are important for visual acuity and in brain development.

"Infants can't make their own DHA and ARA," explains Barbara Levine, PhD, codirector of the Human Nutrition Program at Rockefeller University in New York City. "They get them through the placenta during pregnancy and from breast milk after birth." That leaves formula-fed babies at a disadvantage, but by putting DHA and ARA into formula, some experts hope to make up the difference. In recent studies, preterm babies seemed to benefit dramatically from the supplemented formula -- demonstrating better motor skills, visual acuity, and cognitive development at age 1 than preterm babies on regular formula. That's undoubtedly because preemies receive significantly less DHA and ARA in utero since they're born early. The results of studies on full-term babies are more mixed: Some have positive results similar to the preemie studies, while others don't show much of a difference. "The jury is still out," says Dr. Baker. "I'm not convinced yet that full-term babies will benefit from DHA formula." Dr. Krebs agrees: "Whether adding DHA and ARA to formula is going to produce lasting benefits five years down the line remains to be seen."

Perhaps more will be known within a year or so, when DHA formulas are projected to hit the shelves as a new (and more expensive) option.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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