Got Breast Milk?

Want to boost your baby's IQ? It may be as easy as choosing breast milk over store-bought formula.

The difference seems to derive from two fatty acids in natural breast milk. In a 17-week-long study, researchers at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas, fed a group of newborns a formula containing docesahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA)--breast milk ingredients that aid in neural development--to test their effect on mental development. A second group was fed a formula containing only DHA, while a third, the control group, drank a commercial formula lacking both DHA and AA. The groups were then tested and compared using the Mental Development Index.

The results, published in the journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, show that children who consumed both DHA and AA performed better than both other groups in terms of memory, problem solving and language development skills. That group's average score was 105: two-and-a-half points higher than the DHA-only group, five points higher than the U.S. national average, and seven points higher than the commercial formula group.

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Based on these findings, Dennis Hoffman, Ph.D., a Retina Foundation senior scientist and study co-author, believes the natural balance of fatty acids in breast milk is the "gold standard--probably the best combination for proper visual and neural development." The researchers plan to retest the participants at ages 4 to 9 to see whether IQ disparities persist. Meanwhile, 60 countries have already begun supplementing baby formula with both DHA and AA--something the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may also require of American formula makers by the end of this year.

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