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DHA and ARA

Does your child need these supplements?

By

Updated April 28, 2014

Enfamil LIPIL™ was the first infant formula supplemented with DHA and ARA to be introduced in the United States. Now, from the makers of Similac™, there is a similar formula called Similac Advance™. In adding DHA and ARA to formula, they are trying to make artificial formulas more like breastmilk, which has long been known to have DHA and ARA.

Since April 2002, you can also feed your child baby food, Beech-Nut First Advantage™, that is supplemented with DHA and ARA.

Do your children need supplements of DHA and ARA? The American Academy of Pediatrics has decided to not take an 'official stand at this time' about whether or not DHA and ARA should be added to infant formula. This is unfortunate, since most Pediatricians turn to the AAP for guidance on matters like this when deciding what is best for their patients and what they should tell parents.

Current studies show no harmful affects of supplementing infant formula with DHA and ARA and some studies even show some benefits to a child's visual function and/or cognitive and behavioral development. However, other studies showed no difference or improvement in development.

A recent article in AAPNews from the AAP Committee on Nutrition did not seem very enthusiastic about the new formulas. The title of the article, Jury still out on ARA, DHA in formula, was a little revealing that not a lot is known about what benefits these additives may have.

The article also states that although the additives have been FDA approved, 'the FDA expects infant formula manufacturers to sponsor scientific studies and to pursue rigorous post-marketing surveillance and monitoring of formulas containing DHA and ARA. This recommendation implies that infants may still be at risk for unknown adverse effects of these oils.' That statement makes it sound like your child will be a guinea pig if he starts drinking this formula, but in reality, most new medications, vaccines, etc., undergo such post-marketing surveillance.

Whether or not to use the new formulas is a difficult decision. Even though there are no reported bad effects to DHA and ARA supplements, there are a few factors that will turn many parents off, especially that infant formulas with DHA and ARA are about 15% more expensive than unsupplemented formula.

The initial problem that there were no soy, lactose free or elemental formulas with DHA and ARA is no longer an issue, as most major baby formula companies have DHA and ARA versions of all of their major formula products. And DHA and ARA formulas are now being supplied through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), so that is no longer an issue either.

What about DHA and ARA added to baby food? If some DHA and ARA in breastmilk or a supplemented formula are good, is more better if you also get it from baby food? Is there a maximum amount of DHA and ARA that you should have? Should you just use a baby food with DHA and ARA if you aren't breastfeeding or giving a DHA/ARA supplemented formula? Unfortunately, there aren't any clear answers to these questions right now.

It is important to keep in mind that none of the foods that are fortified with DHA and ARA state that they are better than breast milk. Instead, Enfamil LIPIL™ says that it is 'our closest formula to breast milk ever,' and Similac Advance™ says 'When DHA and ARA, special nutrients found in breast milk, are recommended.' With all of the effort that these companies are going through to make a product more like breast milk, it should drive home the message about how important breastfeeding is to your baby. In addition to naturally having DHA and ARA, breastfeeding has other advantages and benefits.

In fact, a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Association Between Duration of Breastfeeding and Adult Intelligence, showed an over 6 point increase in IQ between babies that breastfed for less than a month and those that breastfed for at least 7-9 months. That is a significant difference. None of the studies on DHA and ARA supplemented foods showed such a large benefit.

Since has been approved by the FDA, doesn't that mean that it is better? Not really. The FDA approval at this time just means that it is thought to be safe to add DHA and ARA to infant formula and baby food. None of the supplemented foods have FDA approval to make any specific health claims about the benefits of DHA and ARA supplementation.

Hopefully, more research will quickly be done to see what real benefits DHA and ARA have. If they can really improve a child's development, then steps should be made to make sure that it is available to all infants who aren't breastfeeding. Although there are many unanswered questions, for babies that aren't breastfeeding, DHA and ARA supplemented foods may be a good alternative to other infant formulas and baby foods.

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