Facts you need to know about DHA and ARA in infant formula

As a first time Mom I did tons of research on the best formula to feed my baby after I decided it was the best thing for our family as a whole to stop breastfeeding. You can read more about my search for formula here. There seem to be a lot of different views on whether or not to feed formula with added DHA and ARA and a lot of controversy surrounding how the additives in infant formula are derived.

First and foremost, if you do choose to feed formula with DHA and ARA added, it is well worth your time to do your research on how your formula of choice manufactures their additives. Many formulas use a questionable process to create their additives which may be toxic. Read more here. The following is a direct quote from The Cornucopia Institute “The DHA in infant formula and organic milk comes from docosahexaenoic single cell oil (DHASCO). These oils are extracted with the toxic chemical hexane from laboratory-grown algae.”

Fortunately there is one formula in the United States that has a nontoxic and organic way to extract DHA and ARA additives and that is Baby’s Only Organic made by Nature’s One.  They use a process involving egg yolks that no other brand uses.

Now for the facts which I had to dig for several months to find. This is not just a quick google search. This is the best and most up-to-date information I could find on the subject.

What is DHA and ARA?

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA).  ARA (arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA).  Both are non-essential fatty acids because the human body has the capability of making them from other available fats already consumed.  DHA is made from linolenic fatty acid and ARA is made from linoleic fatty acid.  Linolenic and linoleic fatty acids are essential fatty acids meaning that the body cannot make them and they must be provided through the foods we eat.  All infant formulas contain these essential fatty acids. 

This is why I believe that it is not necessary to purchase formula with additives from potentially toxic hexane or even from the safer Nature’s One egg extraction method unless specifically directed to do so by the child’s healthcare provider.

Where is DHA found in nature?

Food sources of DHA include cold water fish and their oils, egg yolks, and organ meats such as liver.  ARA is found mostly in animal products, such as eggs, meat and some fish such as tilapia and catfish.

Obviously newborns do not consume these foods, but in my opinion, it may be beneficial especially for breastfeeding mothers to take these foods into consideration as a part of their regular healthy diet.

What the the Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition has to say about DHA and ARA:

The highly respected American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition has no official position on supplementation of term or preterm infant formulas with DHA and ARA.  In fact, they state the following:

“Finally, considering the marked variability among infants of apparent conversion of ALA to DHA and LA to ARA, it is conceivable that some infants will benefit from supplementation, whereas others will not. Such a scenario certainly would explain the marked variability in outcomes documented by virtually every study. It is also likely that any beneficial effects of LCPUFA supplementation will be subtle and possibly not detected with available methodology.”*

*American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.  Fats and Fatty Acids.  In: Kleinman RE, Greer FR, eds.  Pediatric Nutrition.  7th ed.  Elk Grove Village, IL.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2014; 426.

Reason some may still consider feeding formula with DHA and ARA additives:

Many parents and healthcare professionals may want to have an “insurance policy” regarding DHA and ARA since they may have questions regarding the amount of conversion of the essential fatty acids into the non-essential fatty acids so they either use a formula containing DHA and ARA or may use a DHA supplement.  This is something to discuss with a child’s healthcare provider.

So there you have it folks, the hard facts about DHA and ARA. Now it is up to you to decide whether the additives are worth the investment. For me and my family, I say no.  As stated above, all infant formulas contain fatty acids that are converted to DHA and ARA in the body, therefore I don’t see the need to take a risk with potentially harmful additives even though my formula of choice uses the only organic and nontoxic extraction method. Unless one day I am specifically instructed by my pediatrician to feed my child formula including these additives, (at which point I would only use Nature’s One Baby’s Only Formula) I will put that extra money toward a college fund as I feel it will go to much better use.

Do you agree? Do you feed a formula with added DHA and ARA and plan to continue after reading these facts? Why or why not?

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