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SCIENCE FILE | Science in Brief

Acids Banned in Baby Formula Found to Aid Mental Growth

March 09, 2000

Two fatty acids normally found in mother's milk and widely used in infant formula throughout the world--but banned in the United States--aid mental development when added to formula, according to researchers from the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas. The fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Psychologist Eileen E. Birch and her colleagues studied 56 newborns. One-third received conventional formula, a third received formula supplemented with DHA and a third received formula supplemented with both DHA and AA.

At age 18 months, the infants were assessed on a scale that measures mental development. Those receiving both DHA and AA had an average score of 105.6, about the same as the score for infants being breast fed, the team reports in today's Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. Those whose formula was supplemented only with DHA had an average score of 102, while those receiving conventional formula scored 98. A Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman said the agency may issue revised guidelines for infant formula in as little as eight months.

The study is available on the Internet at http://www.cup.cam.ac.uk/journals/dmc/birch.pdf.

--Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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