Infants Need Long-Chain Fatty Acids for Developing Vision

March 13, 2002

NEW YORK (MedscapeWire) Mar 14 — Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) support the developing vision of infants, according to a randomized trial of formula supplementation reported in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"The critical period during which the dietary supply of [LCPs]…may influence the maturation of cortical function in term infants is unknown," write Eileen E. Birch and colleagues from the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas. "The results suggest that [this] critical period … extends beyond six weeks of age."

In this study, 65 healthy term infants weaned from breast-feeding at 6 weeks of age were randomized to formula with or without LCP supplementation. Because breast milk is rich in LCPs, all infants received LCPs in the first 6 weeks of life.

Compared with infants receiving formula supplemented with LCPs, infants receiving formula that did not provide LCPs had significantly poorer visual acuity at 17, 26, and 52 weeks of age and significantly poorer stereoacuity at 17 weeks of age.

Better acuity and stereoacuity at 17 weeks was correlated with higher plasma concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Better acuity at 52 weeks was correlated with higher DHA concentrations in plasma and red blood cells. There were no significant differences in growth between the 2 groups.

"There is a clear need to define safe and effective alternatives to breast-feeding after weaning to infant formula," the authors write. "The results presented here suggest that LCP-supplemented formula is well-tolerated and beneficial to the maturation of the visual cortex."

Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75(3):570-580

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD


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