DHA for Increasing Cognitive Skills in Infants Frederick MD

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the longest and most unsaturated of the omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain. In the fetus and young infant, DHA is essential for proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system, and for the retina of the eyes.

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Katherine White
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Sandra C M Christiansen, MD
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DHA for Increasing Cognitive Skills in Infants

DHA Supplemented Formula May Increase Cognitive Skills in Infants.
Date: Thursday, October 22, 2009
Source: Child Development
Related Monographs: Cognitive Function, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)




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Cognitive function is the term used to describe a person's state of consciousness (alertness and orientation), memory, and attention span. A mental status examination (MSE) is a standard test used by healthcare professionals to measure a patient's overall mental health. Evaluating a patient's cognitive function includes, first of all, measuring their level of alertness and orientation. It is an intellectual process by which one becomes aware of, perceives, or comprehends ideas. It involves all aspects of perception, thinking, reasoning, and remembering.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the longest and most unsaturated of the omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain. In the fetus and young infant, DHA is essential for proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system, and for the retina of the eyes. However, these functions may make it useful for the treatment and support of a number of other health conditions. DHA may help prevent heart disease and help lower harmful fat levels in the blood stream. Dietary DHA may reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing the level of blood triglycerides in humans. Low levels of DHA result in reduction of brain serotonin levels and have been associated with ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, and depression, among other diseases, and more and more evidence is suggesting that DHA supplementation may be effective in combating such diseases.


A study published in the journal, Child Development, investigated the possibility that DHA supplemented formula could effect infant cognitive development. The researchers enrolled 229 infants and the babies were randomly given either formula supplemented with DHA or regular infant formula. The babies started the different formulas shortly after birth, or after 6 weeks of breastfeeding or after 4 to 6 months of breastfeeding. Nine months later the infants were assessed with a 2-step problem solving task. The results were the infants who received the DHA supplemented formula were more successful on the tests, with a 51 percent success rate in comparison to only 29 percent for children who received the traditional formula. Also, children receiving DHA supplemented formula after 6 weeks of breastfeeding also performed better with a 46 percent success rate in comparison to 13 percent for the group given the regular formula. "Currently, there is no clear consensus on whether infant formula should be supplemented with DHA," said James Drover, head of the study. "However, our results clearly suggest that feeding infants formula supplemented with high concentrations of DHA provides beneficial effects on cognitive development."1


1 Drover J, Hoffman DR, Castaneda YS, et al. Three Randomized Controlled Trials of Early Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation on Means-End Problem Solving in 9-Month-Olds. Child Development. Sep2009;80(5):1376-1384.



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