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Do DHA Supplements Make Babies Smarter?

Peruse the infant formula aisle, or check out the options for prenatal nutritional supplements, and you’ll find that nearly all these products boast a “brain nourishing” omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. But despite decades of research, it’s still not clear that DHA in formula boosts brain health in babies, or that mothers need to go out of their way to take DHA supplements.

A systematic review of studies published this month by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded there was no clear evidence that formula supplementation with DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, a nutrient found mainly in fish and fish oil, improves infant brain development. At the same time, it found no harm from adding the nutrient. The findings are consistent with a review of the effects of omega-3 supplements in pregnancy and infancy published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality last fall that found little evidence of benefit.

Still, many experts believe there is value in including DHA in formula. “Even if you can’t easily prove it, because it’s hard to prove developmental outcomes, it makes sense to use it,” said Dr. Steven Abrams, a professor of pediatrics at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s probably a good idea to keep it in there, and it’s certainly safe.”


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