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DHA and ARA in Milk Products and Formulas

Researchers continually evaluate the molecules that constitute the composition of human mother’s milk. It has resulted in efforts to produce infant feeding formulas that have the same properties. Breast milk remains the best and has the ability to boost immune systems, digests easier and increases intelligence. Many mothers can’t breast feed. This motivates researchers to find new ways to make supplemental feeding more effective. Milk formulas now have additives like DHA and ARA – DHA is docosahexaenoic acid and ARA is arachindonic acid (both additives are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids present in breast milk). Babies systems make ARA and DHA from other essential fatty acids in their diets which are vital for brain and eye development during the third trimester of pregnancy. Quantities of DHA and ARA vary in breast milk. Some babies appear to benefit from direct consumption of these fatty acids but a breast fed baby’s blood values of these molecules is higher.

Breast milk has the perfect ratio of amino acids, fats and other nutrients and this special combination cannot be duplicated in laboratories. Manufacturers claim that additives to milk formulas will benefit infants – the claim is essentially flawed. For example, DHA and ARA used in infant formulas are plant based and extracted from fermented microalgae and fungus in the soil – breast milk fatty acids are structurally different. DHA, ARA and other fatty acids have complex interactions. Because they can be isolated does not mean that they perform the same. Take note, these formulas have not been approved by any U.S. Government agency even though manufacturers imply that the FDA has given its approval. Not true! The law only requires manufacturers to provide assurances to the FDA that good quality control and manufacturing processes are in place. Even if these assurances are not provided and the FDA objects, the manufacturers may continue to market products.

The FDA receives documentary confirmation that products are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). The FDA has relied on data published by the manufacturing companies concerning GRAS in infant formulas containing DHA and ARA. The FDA states that an evaluation of food ingredients is safe based on general scientific knowledge and expect manufacturing companies to conduct post market studies. Formula fed babies are therefore part of an experimental study.

Manufacturers say that DHA and ARA have been used for years in various countries without problems but don’t admit that there has been no systematic monitoring or information analysis.

In November 1998, the Journal of Nutrition published a review stating that researchers concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence that DHA and ARA additives in formulas are harmful or beneficial to infants.

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