November 26, 2018


DHA and ARA:  Does It Belong in Organic Baby Formula?

DHA and ARA are connected to brain and eye development.  But is it necessary to have?

Formula companies are marketing products that contain DHA and ARA because research shows that these long chain fatty acids are linked to brain and eye development during early stages of life.  At the same time, there are concerns about health risks that your baby can be exposed to because of the process in extracting these oils.  With all of the interest in adding these two ingredients in baby formula, do you really need to have it and can you find an organic baby formula that doesn’t have it?

What is DHA and ARA?

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) are the common names for long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.  They are related to omega 3 and omega 6.  These fatty acids are found in the brain and nervous systems.  They are also found in the eyes as well as the cardiovascular systems.  Scientists have found that these two fatty acids are important to these systems’ health and development. 


Why Do Baby Formula Companies Want DHA and ARA in Their Products?

DHA and ARA are naturally found in breast milk.  It aids babies’ brain, neural, and eye development during the time in a human’s life that they do the most development.  While baby formula will never be exactly like breast milk, it strives to come as close as possible.  This is done by adding ingredients, vitamins, minerals, and even fatty acids that are found in breast milk.

What is the Problem with Adding DHA and ARA to Baby Formula?

The problem with many baby formulas that have DHA and ARA added to the mix is that these forms of the fatty acids are synthetic.  They were manufactured under the names DHASCO and ARASCO.  There were even questions about the effectiveness of synthetic DHA and ARA in baby formula. 

In 2010, the USDA banned DHA and ARA in certified organic baby formula because it did not meet the standards.  The other concern was that the oils were extracted from fermented algae and fungus using hexane.  This powerful solvent is a neurotoxic chemical which can reverse the positive impact of the fatty acids during these developmental stages.  By 2011, the Organic Standards Board reinstated the use of DHA and ARA in organic baby formula so long as it does not use hexane for the extraction.  However, it is not known what is used in place of hexane.

Is DHA and ARA in Organic Baby Formula from Europe?

If you are looking for organic baby formula that is free of DHA and ARA, you can find it in Holle and Lebenswert products.  Both of these brands use milk that is raised using biodynamic agricultural practices.  It is 99% organic, so there is no room for additional ingredients that are synthetic.  The only ingredients that are not organic are the vitamins and minerals that are required in order to meet your baby’s nutritional needs.

You may still want your baby to have the DHA and ARA for their development.  This is true with premature babies who have more developmental challenges due to their pre-term births.  Since the European Union’s organic guidelines strictly prohibit the use of synthetic DHA and ARA in their products, one company incorporates the fatty acids in a different way.  Hipp baby formulas do contain DHA and ARA by using fish oil.  There are no solvents used in the extraction so there are no risks of neurotoxins such as hexane.  However, this does mean that it contains fish which can be an allergen for some babies.


With European organic baby formulas, you are given a choice whether or not to introduce DHA and ARA in your baby’s formula.  If you are breastfeeding first or supplementing with organic baby formula, you can feel assured that your little one is already getting some of those fatty acids naturally from your milk.

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