Enfamil LIPIL, an infant formula with DHA and ARA - two nutrients naturally found in breast milk - has been shown to improve visual development in infants, according to a new study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The report, published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that infants fed Enfamil LIPIL after weaning from breast milk had improved vision throughout the first year of life.
In the study, infants were breastfed for approximately the first six weeks following birth, and then were switched to either Enfamil LIPIL or to a control formula. The control formula did not contain LIPIL, Enfamil's blend of DHA and ARA.
When tested at one year of age, the infants fed Enfamil LIPIL showed improved visual acuity equal to about one line on a standard eye chart compared to the infants consuming the control formula. Enfamil LIPIL claims to be the only infant formula in the US that has been clinically demonstrated to enhance visual acuity.
"In comparing breastfed infants to formula fed infants, one of the differences often seen is improved visual acuity in the breastfed infants," said Alan Greene, a practising paediatrician and attending physician at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University. "Scientists believe that it is because of the presence of a sufficient amount of DHA in breast milk - DHA and ARA are important building blocks of brain and eye tissue."
In this most recent study, the infants who were fed Enfamil LIPIL after weaning maintained levels of DHA and ARA in their blood that were statistically significantly higher than the infants consuming the control formula without LIPIL. The results of the study also showed that infants demonstrated improved visual acuity throughout the study period, when tested at four months, six months and one year of age.
The study was led by Eileen Birch of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, who has studied DHA and ARA for 15 years. An earlier study led by Dr Birch and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also points to the potential visual and mental developmental benefits of DHA and ARA. In that study, infants fed Enfamil LIPIL from birth to four months scored an average of seven points higher (on a 100-point scale) on a test of mental development at 18 months compared to infants fed a control formula without LIPIL. The study also showed improved visual acuity equal to about one line on a standard eye chart in the one-year-old infants fed Enfamil LIPIL.
"This latest Birch study is significant for a number of reasons," said Greene. "First of all, it suggests that the critical period for infant visual development extends beyond the first six weeks of life - that means infants can benefit from receiving Enfamil LIPIL with DHA and ARA beyond that initial period. Secondly, it shows that infants can maintain blood levels of DHA and ARA more like the levels of breast fed babies if they are weaned to a formula supplemented with these nutrients at sufficient levels."
This is the latest of several studies, most of which show a definite benefit to the higher levels of DHA and ARA found in Enfamil LIPIL. Only a few studies have failed to show a benefit and those results may reflect differences in sources and levels of DHA and ARA, ages at testing or test methodology used. Additional studies are underway to confirm the long-term benefits of DHA and ARA supplementation.
Enfamil infant formula is manufactured by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a unit of Bristol-Myers Squibb.