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Omega-3 fatty acid in formula supports eye health

February 8, 2010

Adding the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to infant formula may improve the visual acuity of the infants, says a new clinical trial.

In the randomized controlled trial, 244 healthy formula-fed infants between one and nine days of age were randomly assigned to four groups receiving formula supplemented with 0.32 percent, 0.64 percent or 0.96 percent DHA, or iron as control formula (1). The DHA-supplemented formulas also contained 0.64 percent arachidonic acid (ARA).

When the infants reached 12 months of age, measures of the clarity of the infants’ vision showed that those fed the DHA-supplemented formula had significantly better vision than infants fed the control formula. However, higher levels of DHA supplementation than 0.32% of total fatty acids were not associated with additional improvement of visual acuity. The data speak directly to the safety and tolerance profiles of DHA levels as high as 0.96% of fatty acids in infant formula. The safety and tolerance of these higher DHA concentrations was expected, because they are within the range of DHA concentrations found in human milk worldwide, the researchers commented.

While it is agreed that breastfeeding is the best way to ensure an infant receives the nutrients it needs in its first months, formulas are indispensable in cases where mothers are unable to feed their children – be it for health or logistical reasons. Mothers' desire to give their children the best possible start in life means that there is scope for fortification. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) levels of 100 mg of per day are appropriate for 7–24 month-old infants along with 200 mg per day for pregnant and lactating women to contribute to normal development of the eye of the fetus, infant and young children.

References

  1. Birch E. E. et al. The DIAMOND (DHA Intake And Measurement Of Neural Development) Study: a double-masked, randomized controlled clinical trial of the maturation of infant visual acuity as a function of the dietary level of docosahexaenoic acid. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. February 2010.