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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 00:29 GMT
Baby supplement 'boosts brain power'
Many mothers still choose to bottle-feed their babies
Doctors may have found a way of supplementing infant formula milk to improve the brain development of babies.

Breast milk is generally accepted to confer several advantages to developing babies, including protection against allergy and some infections.

There is also some evidence that intelligence could be affected by whether or not the child was breastfed.

However, it is not always possible for every mother to breast feed, and scientists are looking for ways to soup up formula milk with extra ingredients to bridge the nutrition gap between the two.

This could have significant implications for their learning ability at school.

Dr Peter Willatts, University of Dundee
Some of the ingredients of breast milk, not found in infant formula milk, are "long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids" (LCPs).

A project led by the University of Dundee, compared babies with this supplement added to their formula for the first four months to those being fed normal formula milk.

The main idea of the survey was to see how these babies were progressing mentally even years afterwards.

Sharper and faster

Six-year-old children who had been fed infant milk with the supplement had faster mental agility - and were more efficient in understanding and solving problems.

Dr Peter Willatts, who was involved in the project, told a conference in Birmingham: "Breastfeeding is best for babies but not always possible.

"The aim of the latest study was to investigate the long-term effects of using LCPs, particularly to see if there was any difference in speed of taking decisions an IQ of children in the two groups."

Learning ability

He continued: "Both groups were asked to complete a series of tasks involving a succession of picture matching.

"The group given the LCP supplement from birth were measurably faster in finding the correct images, and other intelligence tests showed them to be more efficient in understanding and solving problems.

"This could have significant implications for their learning ability at school."

Preliminary data also suggests that LCP supplementation during infancy may be linked to lower blood pressure in later childhood, and even later into adulthood.

Breast milk naturally contains LCPs, although the quantities can vary depending on the amount of oily fish, nuts and green leaf vegetables are being eaten by the mother, as these are rich sources.

The BBC's Jane Warr
"Fatty acids are very important to a babies health"
See also:

31 May 01 | Health
Fatty fish 'cut cancer risk'
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