Infant formula supplemented with iron and the fatty acids DHA and ARA helps to significantly improve the visual development of infants compared to non-supplemented formula, shows a new study.
Researchers at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas studied 61 babies who were breastfed from birth to four to six months and then randomly weaned, either to the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) supplemented formula, Enfamil Lipil with Iron, or to a formula without DHA and ARA. The babies fed the supplemented formula had improved visual acuity at one year of age, compared to the babies fed the non-supplemented formula after weaning, reported the team in the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
"This study demonstrates the continued need for DHA and ARA in the infant diet beyond four months of age to optimize visual development during the first year of life," said lead researcher Dennis R. Hoffman of the Retina Foundation. "If a woman stops breastfeeding at four months of age, which is quite common, then the supply of DHA and ARA dramatically drops unless a formula with the appropriate level of these nutrients added is chosen."
Research on DHA and ARA supplemented formula has also demonstrated improved brain development when compared with formula without DHA and ARA. A study published in January found that children whose mothers had a higher intake of DHA during pregnancy scored higher on intelligence and achievement tests at four years of age than those whose mothers had a lower DHA intake.
Pete Buzy, chief financial officer of Martek, which makes the DHA and ARA blend included in the Enfamil formula, said: "These findings support the addition of Martek's oils to other infant food products.""Our studies...suggest that formulas with these nutrients offer babies a significant advantage," said Dr Susan Carlson, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center. "We've seen higher early visual acuity and accelerated development assessed by measuring infant attention. The improvements appear to be even greater in low birth weight babies who did not receive DHA from their mothers during the last trimester of pregnancy. In the clinical trials as a whole, formulas with DHA and ARA are tolerated as well as formulas without DHA and ARA."
Enfamil Lipil with Iron was the first formula with DHA and ARA to receive clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration nearly two years ago. Mead Johnson Nutritionals claims it is the only one clinically proven to enhance mental and visual development in full-term infants.