WEDNESDAY, May 30 (HealthDay News) -- Babies who are fed soy formula do as well as babies drinking cow's milk formula on tests of mental ability in the first year of life, a new study finds. But breast-fed babies score slightly higher than infants on either type of formula, the researchers say.
About 20 percent of formula-fed babies in the United States are on soy formula, often because their mothers cannot breast-feed and they are allergic to cow's milk formula.
"Our study is very important because it shows that the growth and development of children in the U.S. who are fed soy formula is the same as children who are fed milk formulas," said Thomas Badger, professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and lead investigator of the study.
Badger and his colleagues have looked at the effects of soy components in animal studies and found negative and positive effects, such as less weight gain. In particular, they were concerned that one of the chemicals in soy that can act like estrogen could alter brain development and function in babies.
The researchers did find a difference in brain development between breast-fed babies and those on cow's milk or soy formula, but it was so small that it will probably not affect long-term ability, Badger said. "I don't think parents should be worried at all if their kids are on formula."
Another expert agreed.
"This study should be a great relief to people who have been using soy formula," said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, medical director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.
"[But] you really have to see what the babies do when they have to learn to read and do social things," Lawrence said. Badger and his colleagues will test the babies in the study when they are 6 years old to see if there are differ
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