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Watch Out for Synthetics in Baby Formula

For years, baby formula manufacturers have been fortifying and reformulating their formula blends in an effort to position them as equal or superior to natural breast milk. Beginning in 2002, many producers began supplementing their formulas with synthetic forms of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), the long chain fatty acids naturally present in breast milk. However, evidence is now showing that these synthetic additives are detrimental to children’s health, despite their continued usage in almost every available brand of infant formula.

The idea behind fortifying infant formula with DHA/ARA was substantiated based upon the fact that a mother’s breast milk naturally contains these polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are vital components to human eye and brain development, particularly in the formative infant years. But the primary distinction is that the type of DHA/ARA being used in infant formula is structurally incompatible with the form found in human milk.

Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that produces synthetic DHA/ARA, extracts the oils from laboratory-grown fermented algae and fungus using hexane, a known neurotoxic chemical. Identified as a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hexane falls in the same category as many other toxins linked to causing cancer and other serious health problems.

Martek’s 1996 DHA/ARA investment promotional material distributed to formula producers states that even if the additive has no demonstrable benefit, it nevertheless allows manufacturers to market their formulas as being the “closest to human milk”. Many formula manufacturers quickly jumped on the bandwagon despite a lack of evidence proving the additive’s safety.

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