ABSTRACT: Recent studies have reported that formulafed preterm infants score lower on visual and developmental tests relative to breast-fed preterm infants. This phenomenon has been associated with the presence of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, in breast milk and its absence from infant formula. To investigate the possibility that DHA status of healthy, term infants is also related to neuronal function of the visual pathway, we studied the erythrocyte fatty acid profiles of 16 infants at 22.3 ± 3.9 wk of age and related these to maturity of the visual pathway as assessed by visual-evoked potentials. Healthy, term infants fed breast milk had better visual-evoked potential acuity (p < 0.05) and higher DHA levels (p < 0.001) than infants who received infant formula as their major energy source. There was a positive correlation between erythrocyte DHA and visual-evoked potential acuity (p < 0.01). The data are preliminary and the long-term effects as yet unknown. However, our results suggest that there is an urgent need to evaluate the dietary fatty acid supply of formula-fed term infants.
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