Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Breastfeeding linked to intelligence once again - beware of industry claims for their additives

The media is full of reports today about new research on the benefits of breastfeeding when it comes to intelligence. Apparently a genetic link has been found, showing that 9 out of 10 children who are breastfed benefit from the impact of Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs) in breastmilk.

Click here for a report in the Daily Mail.

This article states:


The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Terrie Moffitt, based at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said: "The argument about intelligence has been about nature versus nurture for at least a century. We're finding that nature and nurture work together.

"Our findings support the idea that the nutritional content of breast milk accounts for the differences seen in human IQ. But it's not a simple allornone connection: it depends to some extent on the genetic makeup of each infant."


It then considers additives made to formula:

In the last decade, many infant formula makers have started adding two Pufas [or LCPUFAs] - docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) to their products.

But the children taking part in the gene study were born in 1972-73 in New Zealand and 1994-95 in England, before fatty acid supplementation of infant formula began.

The jury is still out on whether Pufa supplementation has made a difference. However, in laboratory tests, animals given fatty acid supplements have performed better at learning, memory and problem-solving tests.


The respected Cochrane Library has conducted a review of studies on adding LCPUFAs to formula and concluded:

At present there is little evidence from randomised trials of LCPUFA supplementation to support the hypothesis that LCPUFA supplementation confers a benefit for visual or general development of term infants.


Companies have been claiming benefits from adding LCPUFAs to their products. At the turn of the year the UK Food Standards Agency told companies to stop doing so on labels of infant formula as they were in breach of the law. See:

In the Philippines, Nestlé has been promoting its Nestogen infant formula as containing 'Brain Building Blocks', something that is now illegal there following the Supreme Court rejection of an industry attempt to strike down Department of Health regulations. See:

At the time when LCPUFAs were first being synthesized on industrial scale for adding to formula, in the additive Formulaid, market analysts Hambrecht & Quist strongly recommended investors buy shares in the producers, Martek Biosciences. They saw a goldmine.

This is what they said back in the 1990s about the additives Martek had come up with:

"The history of infant formula has shown that virtually all similar examples have led to wide-scale introduction of such additives into infant formula, even if there was no evidence that the additives were important. Infant formula is currently a commodity market with all products being almost identical and marketers competing intensely to differentiate their product. Even if Formulaid had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk.'"

No doubt the industry will attempt to exploit the new findings on the benefit of breastfeeding to continue to suggest that their formula with LCPUFAs will confer similar benefits, though the indepedent review of the science finds no evidence to suggest ingredients in the different environment of formula have the same beneficial effect.

The Food Standards Agency is expected to reveal this week whether it will allow companies to continue to make idealizing claims about formula and to arget parents to promote their products. See:

On additives, the Baby Feeding Law Group takes the view that if an ingredient is necessary to reduce the health disadvantages of formula feeding, then it should be a requirement in all formulas, but the assessment must be based on an independent review of the science and much of this must be free from commercial influence. See the report: Protecting breastfeeding - Protecting babies fed on formula, available at:

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