U. SOUTHAMPTON (UK)—An infant’s intelligence is shaped more by family environment than by the amount of omega 3 fatty acid from breast milk or fortified formula, new research shows.

Scientists followed 241 children from birth until they reached four years of age to investigate the relationship between breastfeeding and the use of DHA–fortified formula in infancy and performance in tests of intelligence and other aspects of brain function.

Details appear in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

After taking into account the influence of mothers’ intelligence and level of education, researchers found no relationship between the estimated total intake of DHA in infancy and a child’s IQ.

“This study helps to dispel some of the myths surrounding DHA,” says Catharine Gale of the University of Southampton.

“We do know that there are clear health benefits to breast feeding but DHA, which is naturally present in breast milk and added into some formulas, is not the secret ingredient that will turn your child into an Einstein.

“Children’s IQ bears no relation to the levels of DHA they receive as babies. Factors in the home, such as the mother’s intelligence and the quality of mental stimulation the children receive, were the most important influences on their IQ.”

Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are found in high concentrations in the brain and accumulate during the brain’s growing spurt which occurs between the last trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life.

Although the current research shows a child’s IQ is not influenced by DHA, previous studies in animals have shown that a lack of DHA during periods of rapid brain growth may lead to problems in brain development.

Researchers used data from the Southampton’s Women’s Survey at the University’s School of Medicine, the largest project studying women’s health and lifestyle ever carried out in the UK.

Funding was provided by the Medical Research Council and the Foods Standards Agency.

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