January 15, 2009

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Helps Preemies

Research shows preterm infant girls who received a high intake of dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, had improvements in their neurodevelopment.

Infants who receive an inadequate supply of nutrients during the newborn period are at risk for developmental disorders. DHA deficiency has been shown to result in poor brain development.

In order to measure the effect of DHA on infants, 657 infants were enrolled and randomized to receive doses of high-DHA (about 1 percent total fatty acids) or standard DHA (about 0.3 percent total fatty acids) from day two to day four of life until the expected date of delivery. The infants were fed DHA through either breast milk or infant formula.

Researchers used the Bayley Mental Development Index (MDI) to assess problem solving, memory and early language acquisition. They found girls who received the high-DHA diet had a significantly higher MDI score compared with those fed the standard DHA diet. Interestingly, the MDI score among boys did not differ between groups.

The reasons for the lack of responsiveness to the different diets among boys are unknown.

"Fewer infants had significantly delayed mental development with high-DHA diets compared with standard DHA, and there were fewer girls with mild and significant mental delay in the high-DHA group relative to the standard DHA group," study authors concluded.

SOURCE: JAMA, January 14, 2009


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