Studies investigating cognitive outcomes following docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation of infant formula yield conflicting results, perhaps due to inadequate dietary concentrations.

To determine the optimal DHA concentration in term formula to support cognitive maturation.

This was a double-masked, randomized, controlled, prospective trial. A total of 181 infants were enrolled at 1-9 days of age and assigned randomly to receive one of four term infant formulas with one of four levels of docosahexaenoic acid: Control (0% DHA), 0.32% DHA, 0.64% DHA, or 0.96% DHA. All DHA-supplemented formulas contained 0.64% arachidonic acid (ARA). Infants were fed the assigned formulas until 12 months of age. One hundred forty-one children completed the 12-month feeding trial and were eligible for this study. Cognitive function was assessed in 131 children at 18 months of age using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development II (BSID II).

There were no diet group differences on the Mental Development Index (MDI), the Psychomotor Development Index (PDI), or the Behavior Rating Scale (BRS) of the BSID II. However, when the scores of children who received any of the three DHA-supplemented formulas were combined and compared to control children, a significant difference emerged: the MDI scores of DHA-supplemented children were higher (104.1 v. 98.4; p=0.02).

These results suggest that dietary supplementation of DHA during the first year of life leads to enhanced cognitive development at 18 months of age. DHA concentration of 0.32% is adequate to improve cognitive function; higher concentrations did not confer additional benefit.