Outcomes of Higher versus Moderate DHA Levels in Milk for Infants

March 17, 2010


Feeding Preterm Infants Milk with a Higher Dose of Docosahexaenoic Acid than that used in Current Practice does not Influence Language or Behaviour in Early Childhood : a Follow-up Study of a Randomiz
Smithers et al., Am. J. Clinical Nutrition , 91 : 628-634 , 2010.
Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute , Adelaide, Australia and Flinders Medical Centre , Adelaide , Australia.


Previous studies have indicated that feeding formula containing 0.2-0.4 % of milk fat as DHA to preterm infants improved mental development as compared to feeding formula lacking DHA. Since preterm infants have been reported to have deficits in language development and behaviour , it was of interest to compare the feeding of milk with moderate levels of DHA (0.2-0.3 % ) versus higher levels (1.0 %) to such infants on subsequent outcomes. For this purpose, moderate levels of DHA and higher levels of breast milk DHA were obtained . The latter (1.0 % DHA) resulted from providing lactating women a supplement of 900 mg DHA daily. If formula was needed, they were adjusted to have DHA levels as in the breast milk groups. Infants born at <33 wks of gestation consumed either the moderate or higher DHA milk followed by assessments at 3- and 5-years corrected age. No significant differences between the two DHA groups were found for the various language , behaviour, and temperament measures that were conducted on the children (MCDI, SDQ, and STSC scores).

The authors concluded that feeding preterm infants milk with three times the standard level of DHA did not provide any further enhancement in language development or behaviour as assessed in early childhood.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

It is noted that formula containing approximately 0.35 % of milk fat as DHA is commonly found in the marketplace . Levels of DHA in breast milk from various countries vary dramatically due to differing DHA intakes in lactating mothers (eg, from approx. 0. 15 % in many North American women to 1.0 % in Japan). Further studies are needed using a wide range of outcomes (in early childhood and later) to determine if higher DHA levels in milk (breastmilk and formula) ranging from 0.3 % and to different higher levels may improve any health-related measures.

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