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Infants who Drink DHA-Enriched Formula Might Have Better Cognitive Outcomes

Update Date: Aug 13, 2013 01:36 PM EDT

For a newborn baby, nutrition is the most important variable that parents need to monitor in promoting healthy physical and cognitive growth. Numerous studies have found that babies who were breastfed have higher intelligence quotients (IQs). These studies have all promoted breast milk over formula. In a new study, however, researchers from the University of Kansas discovered that infants who were given DHA-enriched formula milk since birth all the way to one-year-old had better cognitive outcomes.

In this study, the researchers tested the effects of formula that was made with a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA). The team examined 81 infants that were fed one out of four formula choices from birth to 12 months. Three of the formulas had varying levels of two types of fatty acids, DHA and ARA. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has been tied to brain and eye development and is present in the womb before birth as well as other food sources, such as fish. ARA (arachidonic acid) is already present in breast milk and in most formulas. One formula did not contain any levels of LCPUFA. When the infants reached 18 months, researchers tested their cognitive abilities every half a year until they turned six-years-old.

The researchers discovered that by the ages of three to six, the children who drank DHA-enriched formula performed better on the cognitive tests. They exhibited accelerated development on tasks that require details, such as pattern discrimination, learning rules and inhibition. The children fed the DHA-enriched formula also performed better on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary test taken at five-years-old and the Wechsler Primary Preschool Scales of Intelligence taken at six-years-old.

"These results support the contention that studies of nutrition and cognition should include more comprehensive and sensitive assessments that are administered multiple times through early childhood," said John Colombo, study director and KU professor of psychology according to Medical Xpress.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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