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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Supplemented feed can cut heart risk
Bottled milk
Bottled milk may not be a good as breast milk

Adding fatty acids to formula milk for babies may cut heart disease in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers found blood pressure levels were lower in children who had been given supplemented formula milk as babies.

The work began in 1992 when 111 newborn babies were fed with formula milk a containing long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and 126 were fed with unsupplemented formula.

Both groups were compared with babies who were breastfed. Breast milk is naturally rich in fatty acids.

Breast is best

Six years later, the children's blood pressure was measured in a follow up study.

Average blood pressure was similar in the babies who were breastfed and those given the supplemented formula.

However, it was significantly higher among those fed on unsupplemented formula milk.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers point out that blood pressure differences in childhood are known to carry through into adulthood - in fact, they tend to be amplified.

There are substances present in breast milk that seem to have long term health benefits to the individual
Dr Stewart Forsyth

Lowering blood pressure by even a small amount is thought significantly to cut the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Therefore, early exposure to fatty acids in the diet may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life.

However, the researchers stress that breast milk is probably the healthiest option.

It contains a wide range of substances not found in formula milk which may confer health benefits.

Lead researcher Dr Stewart Forsyth, a consultant paediatrician at the Tayside Institute of Child Health, University of Dundee, told BBC News Online: "Basically this is another example illustrating that there are substances present in breast milk that seem to have long term health benefits to the individual.

"But if a mother chooses to use formula feed, then it is probably wise for her to chose a brand which includes fatty acids."


Dr Forsyth said the reason why fatty acids seemed to lower blood pressure was unclear.

However, it is thought that the acids are taken up by the membranes that line the surface of the cells that make up the blood vessels.

This may make the blood vessels more relaxed, enabling blood to be pumped round the body more easily.

Dr Christopher Owen, of St George's Hospital Medical School in south London, has conducted research showing that cholesterol levels are lower in adults who were breastfed.

He told BBC News Online there were many reasons to opt for breastfeeding.

"The case for breastfeeding is based on evidence of protection against infection, allergic disorders and obesity, coupled with the possibility of improved neurodevelopment and long-term reduction of cholesterol."

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