Every so often, something comes along that suggests that if we eat a certain thing, we will get smarter. Remember fish, the brain food?
This idea goes way back in our human history. Ancient cultures prized eating certain animals, or parts of animals, thinking they contained special enhancing powers. Eat a fierce lion's heart, and you would become braver. Eat a smart animal's brain, and you would get smarter.
Not that long ago, infant formula manufacturers used our tendency to think this way to market their goods.
All infant formulas are under clinical and legal pressure to be nearly identical, they all aim towards the same goal- to be just like human breast milk. This is why every infant formula on the market has essentially the same number of calories per ounce, grams of sodium, fat, and carbohydrate per ounce.
So if you make a formula, how do you pitch it as better than your competitor's, how do you imply it's competitive with breast milk.
One strategy was to add DHA and ARA to the formula. Not much, not enough to change its basic nutritional value. But enough to say, here is an infant food with extra DHA and ARA. And the claim?
That if your infant eats extra DHA and ARA they will be smarter.
What is DHA and what is ARA?
DHA and ARA are types of fat called fatty acids. It turns these fatty acids are important chemicals in the brain. Much of the brain's material is made up of these compounds.
DHA is docosahexaenoic acid and it makes up 40% of all the polyunsaturated fatty acids of the human brain.
ARA is arachidonic acid which is abundant in the cell membranes of brain tissue.
Does eating more DHA and ARA in infancy make you smarter?
Well, researchers looked at a group of children who did and did not have extra DHA and ARA in infancy.
They found no difference in intelligence or cognitive function between those who ate more and those who ate less DHA or ARA.
Like getting younger, we seem to all long for something that will make us smarter.
There are no chemicals or compounds that have proven able to make our babies smarter adults.
So beware of claims by infant formula manufacturers when they present small supplements to the formula for special purposes.
Dr. Arthur Lavin
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