I am guilty of being swayed by news of miracle supplements such as DHA. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils touted for benefiting nervous system development and prevention of heart disease. I give my five-year-old son with verbal apraxia fish oil supplements, but the use of DHA in infant formulas has come under scrutiny lately for causing “severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and gastrointestinal pain” In fact, the Cornucopia Institute is calling on the FDA to place warning labels on DHA containing infant formula.
While many scientists doubt the benefits of manufactured DHA and ARA oils, little doubt exists that at least a subset of the infant population experiences severe side effects, including watery, explosive diarrhea, severe vomiting, and gastrointestinal distress serious complications in this vulnerable population. Manufactured DHA and ARA fatty acids are structurally different from those found naturally in breastmilk. This structural difference may be one of many possible reasons why some infants experience such severe side effects.
Of course the breast is best, but many parents, for whatever reason, use formula and think DHA makes it more like breastmilk. Parents only want to do what is best for their child, but unfortunately, parents aren’t informed of the risks of DHA and are swayed by info that it will make their children smarter. Consumer Federation of California explains:
If you believed a certain baby formula would make your child smarter, would you buy it?
Infant formula manufacturers are banking that you would. That’s why, since 2002, several companies have fortified their products with synthetic versions of DHA and ARA, long-chain fatty acids that occur naturally in breast milk and have been associated with brain development.
The oils are produced by Martek Biosciences Corp. from lab-grown algae and fungus and extracted with hexane, according to the company’s patent application. Hexane is a neurotoxin.
This is not breaking news, and the verdict is still out on the benefits of DHA. Reading to your child, talking to your child, providing social and emotional stability, eating healthy foods, etc… this is what will make your child smarter.
Formula that makes your child smarter, electronic books that teach your child reading, videos that teach you child how to count…what happened to hoping for a healthing, happy and normal child?
Good post. I never fell for all that DHA marketing. And I agree that it’s not just the milk that children drink that makes them smart or not. It is a variety of factors. I explore the science of issues like these on my blog at http://www.savvysciencemom.com. Check it out!
Stephanie - Green SAHM says
Makes me glad I’ve always been able to breastfeed. No having to sort through wild claims. You’d really think they would need better proof that their artificial DHA has the same benefits as the natural stuff.
Thankyou for your article! I am very disturbed that I can only find one formula on the market that does not have the DHA in it. After doing some research, I did not want to feed my daughter those man-made oils. She is thriving and can see perfectly fine 🙂 What upsets me is that us Mom’s woth babies who are done bf’g really dont have a choice. Thank you for this article. I will link this to me new blog.
Sciencedaily has reported that the babies have shown better cognitive skills when using the formula. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100945.htm The number of babies who have a side-effect response to the additives are very small as far as I’ve been able to find, and the potential long-term side-effects seem higher. Finding a DHA/ARA free formula now is becoming more and more difficult because of that. I honestly think putting a ‘warning label’ on any formula is just a way to try and attack and guilt mothers who might have no other choice but to use formula. Iron causes upset tummies, so does soy, milk, and corn glucose, all things found in formula. But there’s no warning labels on them for those.