There were benefits “during early infancy but also during the preschool years,” in this study by researchers at Juntendo University, School of Medicine, in Tokyo, Japan.

They assign benefit to the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

First, the details.

  • 18 patients were classified into 3 groups.
    • Breastfed
    • Formula-fed
    • Both
  • DHA concentration in the red blood cell membranes was measured in 18 preterm infants at 4 weeks of age.
  • Cognitive function  (perception, memory, creation of imagery, and thinking) at 5 years was measured using a battery of tests.

And, the results.

  • The DHA level at 4 weeks after birth was significantly higher in the breastfed infants vs formula-fed infants.
  • Cognitive function was significantly higher in the breastfed group.
  • Greater cognitive function was associated with higher levels of DHA at 4 weeks of age.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Breastfeeding in the neonatal periods increases the DHA level in preterm infants and may have an important influence on brain development not only during early infancy but also during the preschool years, especially in terms of cognitive function.

Others have reported benefits DHA with breast-feeding and supplementation with cod liver oil.

  • Greater average weight percentage of DHA and a greater proportion of DHA in their red blood cells and brain cortex vs formula-fed infants.
  • Brain cortex DHA levels increase with age, probably due to the length of feeding.
  • Supplementation with cod liver oil (rich in DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid), improved children’s intelligence quotient compared with corn-oil supplementation by 4 years of age.
  • Lower incidence of GI infection.

A summary of the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated recommendations for breast feeding is here.

3/14/09 20:43 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.