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Can Fatty Acids in Breast Milk or Formula Make Kids Smarter?
Date:9/20/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Whether they're fed by bottle or breast, babies seem to turn out smarter when nourished with healthy fatty acids found in breast milk and some formulas, two new studies indicate.

The studies, done in the United Kingdom and Spain and published online Sept. 19 in the journal Pediatrics, found that higher levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as DHA, EPA and ALA) were linked to greater mental development in both young and older children.

Breast milk contains these substances naturally, and many infant formulas have been fortified with healthy fatty acids since research in the last two decades began to suggest they enhanced babies' brain development.

"The longer a mother can breast-feed as exclusively as possible, the better. But if for whatever reason mother can't keep up with nutritional needs of the infant . . . formula definitely offers a great alternative, especially since they supplement formulas these days with long-chain fatty acids," said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., who was not involved in the studies.

The U.K. research team analyzed 107 formerly preterm infants who were about 10 years old at the time of the study. Between birth and 9 months of age, they had been randomly split into groups that received formula supplemented with fatty acids or a placebo. Some also were nourished with breast milk during that time.

During extensive testing measuring IQ, memory, attention and other cognitive functions, the children who exclusively received supplemented formula showed benefits in several cognitive measures. Also, girls -- but not boys -- demonstrated significant advantages in literacy, including reading and spelling. The apparent gender effects concur with growing research describing differences in boys and girls in the brain's vu
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