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DHA and ARA, What’s the Big Deal?

DHA and ARA are all the rage among formula companies. Ever since a link was made between DHA and ARA and brain and eye development, formula companies have been pushing their lab made oil on the public. And the fad has continued despite numerous concerns over processing procedures and health risks. These days it’s hard to find a formula that doesn’t contain the stuff. Because of this, some companies are adding omega 3 and 6 oils to their formula. So what’s the big deal with these long chain fatty acids? And what’s the difference between DHA and ARA and Omega 3 and 6 in formula?

What is DHA and ARA?

DHA and ARA are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the omega 3 and 6 families. DHA and ARA are found in the brain, nervous system, eyes and cardiovascular systems. They are thought to be a key component to the health and development of those areas of the body.

Where Do Babies Usually Get DHA and ARA?

DHA and ARA are a component of breastmilk. Though DHA and ARA begin to accumulate in the body of an infant before birth, the supply is maintained after birth through their mother’s milk.  As a child grows and begins eating solid foods, DHA and ARA are produced in the body from Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids consumed in food. Food sources of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids include fish, fish oil, eggs, nuts, flaxseed, canola oil, and some vegetables, especially leafy greens.

Where Does the DHA and ARA in Formula Come From? 

Commercial DHA and ARA are manufactured in a lab. These labs harvest DHA and ARA from lab grown fermented microscopic algea (DHA) and soil fungus (ARA). In order to extract the DHA and ARA from the microorganisms they are soaked in Hexane and then the oils are distilled out of the solution.

What is Hexane?       

Hexane is a solvent, byproduct of the gasoline refining industry. It is a toxic substance which has been demonstrated to disrupt nervous system and cognitive function and brain development. It has also been linked to gastrointestinal upset.   

What Are the Problems with DHA and ARA in Infant Formula?

Lab made DHA and ARA have been known to cause problems in babies. The most common side effect of DHA and ARA additives in infant formula are gastrointestinal symptoms which include diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, upset stomach, and rash. The fungus and algae used to manufacture commercial DHA and ARA are not found in a normal human diet. There are also significant structural differences between the oils harvested from algae and fungal sources and those that occur in breastmilk. Add to this that there is no scientific evidence that indicated lab produced DHA and ARA have any effect on brain or eye development or health and there is no real case for including it in infant formula.    

What about Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids?

Companies such as HiPP are adding Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to their formulas as an answer to the lab made DHA and ARA found in other formulas. HiPP uses fish oil and vegetable sources of Omega 3 and 6. This is similar to the supplements many adults are taking for heart hearth. They do not use chemicals like hexane anywhere in their formula making process. These sources of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are much safer and have not been shown to cause problems in most infants (the exception here are babies who are allergic to fish or eggs).

Even among organic infant products in the United States, it can be hard to find a formula that does not have lab made DHA and ARA in it. Formula companies generally charge between 15 and 30% more for formulas with DHA and ARA in them. They are making a good deal of profit on a questionable product that can wreak havoc on a baby’s stomach, while playing on parent’s desires for a healthy baby. Thankfully there are now alternatives available to these problematic ingredients. If you are concerned with your baby getting enough Omega oils, HiPP is a good choice. We at carry several European formula brands, including Holle, Lebenswert, and Loulouka that have recently added DHA in compliance with European Union guidelines.

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