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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Jensen, Craig
item Prager, Thomas
item Fraley, J.
item Anderson, Robert
item Heird, William

Submitted to: Journal of Pediatrics
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/22/1996
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid are important parts of the fat content of membranes, especially those of the eye and brain. Both are present in breast milk but not in U.S. formulas, so the formula-fed baby must make these fatty acids from their precursors - - alpha-linolenic (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA). We examined the effect of formulas with varying amounts of ALA from birth to 120 days on growth and eyesight of 54 infants The eyesight of the groups did not differ significantly either at 120 or 240 days of age. However, the infants who received the most ALA weighed appreciably less than the other groups at 120 days of age. This suggests that the lower LA/ALA ratios some advisory groups have recommended for infant formulas may be too low. Even minor changes in formulas' fat blend can affect function, so the lower ratios shouldn't be adopted until the effect of ALA on growth is worked out.

Technical Abstract: Objectives: To determine the effect of Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) intake (or the dietary linoleic acid (LA)/ALA ratio) on growth and visual function of term infants. Study Design: A prospective, double-blinded study of term infants assigned randomly at birth to receive formulas with ~16% of fat as LA and 0.4, 0.95, ,1.7 or 3.24% of fat as ALA (LA/ALA ratios of 44, 18.2, 9.7, and 4.8) for the first four months of life. Anthropometric data were obtained shortly after birth and at 21, 60, 120, and 240 days of life. Visual evoked potentials (VEPs) were measured at 120 and 240 days of age and compared with data from age-matched, breast-fed infants. Results: Infants who received the formula with 3.24% ALA weighed less at 120 days of age than infants who received the formula with 0.4% ALA (p<0.05). Neither VEP latency nor amplitude differed among groups or between any formula group and age-matched, breast-fed infants at either 12 or 240 days of age. Conclusions: High dietary ALA (or low LA/ALA) intake during infancy adversely affectS weight gain and does not appear to improve visual function as assessed by VEPs. These data suggest that the lower LA/ALA ratios currently recommended by some agencies/groups for infant formulas should be reconsidered.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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