New Mothers Unaware of Benefits of Important Omega-3 Fats; may miss out on short window for baby's brain development



    TORONTO, June 11 /CNW/ - A recent survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid among
new Canadian mothers finds that less than one third are aware or understand
the benefits of DHA, an omega-3 fat that supports the normal development of
the brain and eyes in infants. The human brain develops most rapidly in a
child's first two years and DHA consumed in the first months of life plays a
key role in cognitive development. The importance of DHA for both mothers and
infants will be discussed at the Dietitians of Canada annual conference,
'Embracing the Future', starting tomorrow Thursday June 12 in Winnipeg,
Manitoba.
    "Research shows that DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) is required in high
levels in the brain and eye retina to aid with normal development, which is
particularly critical for infants," says Dr. Peter Nieman, pediatrician and
clinical assistant professor, University of Calgary. "DHA begins accumulating
in the brain early, while still in utero, during the third trimester, and
builds rapidly until two years of age when physical brain growth slows.
Mothers need to be aware of the importance of consuming DHA during pregnancy
and, following birth, ensuring their infants have adequate levels of this
important nutrient."

    Importance of DHA in Infant Nutrition

    DHA is an important fatty acid from the omega-3 family of fats. DHA and
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), both long-chain omega-3 fats found in fish oil,
are linked to health benefits.
    As the body can only produce DHA at low levels from its 'parent' omega-3
fat, alpha linolenic acid (ALA), the majority of DHA must be consumed directly
from the diet. Sources of DHA include fatty fish, fish oil supplements and
DHA-enriched foods. For infants, DHA can be consumed through breast milk,
although levels of DHA may vary depending on the mother's consumption of
dietary sources of the nutrient. For those infants who are not breastfed, many
infant formulas are now fortified with DHA; however, levels will vary
depending on the brand.
    To help ensure infants who are not breastfed receive a beneficial amount
of DHA, several expert bodies around the world have released recommendations
for minimal DHA levels in infant formulas, including the Food and Agriculture
Organization and World Health Organization Joint Expert Panel (approximately
0.35 per cent of fatty acids for term infant formula).(1)
    In North America, the Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic
Association recently released a joint position statement on dietary fatty
acids which includes a statement that all non-breastfed infants should receive
a DHA-enriched formula and the level of DHA should be at least 0.2 per cent of
total fatty acids.

    Take a Stand for DHA

    "I believe DHA to be one of the most important human nutrients necessary
for normal development of the brain, eyes and nervous system," says
Dr. Nieman. "It's time for more professional bodies to acknowledge the ample
evidence that exists of DHA's benefits and take a position. The Dietitians of
Canada have released their position, perhaps it's time for Health Canada and
the Canadian Paediatric Society to deliver a strong message about the minimal
recommended intake of DHA for infants, especially during the critical two-year
brain growth window."

    Role of Early DHA and ARA Consumption

    A recently published follow-up study(2), the longest of its kind, found
that four-year-olds who had been fed Enfamil A+(R) infant formula exclusively
for the first four months of life had similar IQ scores as children who were
breastfed. The study, published in the journal Early Human Development was
funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
    This long-term analysis builds on earlier data involving the same group
of infants studied up to 18 months of age, which found similar brain and
visual development outcomes in those fed Enfamil A+ infant formula compared to
those who were breast fed.(3)(4)
    These findings indicate that DHA and ARA supplemented infant formula at
the level found in Enfamil A+ consumed in the first few weeks of life has a
cognitive benefit that can be observed in infancy and resulted in IQ scores of
four-year-olds that did not differ from children who were breastfed.
    "While breast milk remains the best source of nourishment for infants,
research provides us with evidence that non-breastfed infants should be given
an infant formula supplemented with DHA and ARA to support normal brain and
eye development", says registered dietitian Elizabeth Mansfield.

    About Mead Johnson

    Mead Johnson Nutritionals, maker of Enfamil A+ infant formula, is a world
leader in nutrition, dedicated to helping provide infants and children with
the best start in life. Mead Johnson Nutritionals is a subsidiary of
Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global biopharmaceutical and related health care
products company whose mission is to extend and enhance human life.

    About the Canadian Survey

    Ipsos-Reid conducted telephone interviews from October 26th to
November 15th, 2007 with 600 mothers of infants from 0-12 months old in
Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

    
    References

    (1) FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultation. FAO food and nutrition paper
        No. 57. Rome, Italy; 1994:49-55
    (2) Birch EE, Garfield S, Castaneda YS, et al. Visual acuity and
        cognitive outcomes at 4 years of age in a double-blind, randomized
        trial of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented infant
        formula. Early Hum Dev.2007;83:279-284
    (3) Hoffman DR, Birch EE, Castaneda YS, et al. Maturation of visual and
        mental function in 18 month old infants receiving dietary long-chain
        polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) (abstract). FASEB J.
        2003;17:A727-A728.
    (4) Birch EE, Garfield S, Hoffman DR, et al. A randomized controlled
        trial of early dietary supply of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty
        acids and mental development in term infants. Dev. Med Child Neurol.
        2000;42:174-181
    





For further information:

For further information: Fiona Robinson, Hill & Knowlton, (416)
413-4737, Fiona.robinson@hillandknowlton.ca

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