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Finding the Magic Formula: Should Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids be Used to Supplement Infant Formula?

NOTEWORTHY NUTRITION PAPERS- Vol. 5- No. 1 - 2002 Finding the Magic Formula: Should Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids be Used to Supplement Infant Formula? By Mailan Cao ABSTRACT It is well established that infants who are breast-fed in their first year benefit from higher scores on standardized tests of neural development than infants who are fed with formula. Some suspect that the reason for this increased mental function in breast-fed infants is that, unlike formula, breast milk contains the fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), which are known to be major building blocks of neural tissue in the brain and the retina. This paper reviews the current scientific evidence on the role of DHA and AA in infant nutrition and explores the implications of this knowledge for policy changes. Studies of infants fed formula supplemented with DHA and AA showed increased plasma levels of DHA and AA and higher visual function than infants fed unsupplemented formulas. The research on the effects of supplemented DHA and AA on cognitive/behavioral development, however, has been inconclusive. The information presented here is especially pertinent to parents and pediatricians in light of the recent announcement by several leading U.S. manufacturers of infant formula of the development of a new line of infant formula that will contain these two new added ingredients, DHA and AA, and that will be available to consumers within the next few months.

The Atkins Diet: An Unresolved Debate

Obesity is a public health problem reaching epidemic proportions in the United States (1). Many Americans are turning to popular diets, including the well-known Atkins diet. The Atkins diet allows the dieter to consume as much protein and fat as desired, while severely limiting carbohydrate consumption. Studies show that the Atkins diet does promote weight loss, but there is conflict regarding the degree and nature of such weight loss; much of the existing literature agrees that water loss and straight caloric decrease, rather than the composition of the diet, account for all of the observed weight loss (15). A high protein diet does seem to have an advantage in suppressing appetite. Studies have also identified numerous harmful side effects associated with the diet, but there is still considerable debate regarding the effects on cholesterol levels. Sadly, the literature shows a striking lack of long-term, large sample studies on the efficacy of the diet, though certain studies currently underway show some promise.

Hunter-gatherer Nutrition and Its Implications for Modern Societies

Human populations in modern, westernized societies exhibit patterns of diet and physical activity that are associated with increased incidence of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers, among others. One means of identifying the factors that contribute to such diseases is to compare current lifestyles to those pursued by the human species for most of its existence, to which we are presumably still genetically adapted. Because little information regarding the nutritional practices and disease rates among prehistoric humans is available, data from recently characterized hunter-gatherer tribes can be used as a substitute, in that their ways of life do not differ substantially from the evolutionary standard. A brief examination of the practices of such groups reveals striking divergences from current, civilized behaviors, and in many cases, corresponding variations in the incidence of major diseases. These differences suggest new strategies for improving the health of patients in industrialized nations through nutritional and behavioral intervention, as well as corroborating certain accepted nutritional recommendations.

Consequences of the African Diaspora on Nutrition

African-Americans, Afro-Carribeans and other children of the African diaspora continue to fare worse in many health measures of diet, nutrition, morbidity and mortality. What are some of the nutritional basis of such an outcome? What factors exist in the diet of these groups of people that have prevented them from obtaining the health outcomes of their predecessors? The African Diaspora is responsible for a huge transformation and translocation of millions of Africans during a four hundred year period. During this journey, countless Africans along with their foods and dietary customs were carried throughout the Americas to become the primary candidates of an institution of slavery. The descendants of the Africans who embody the diaspora represent populations at varying stages of what is now termed the "nutrition transition" by Popkin. According to this classification, West Africans are classified as members of the "early stage" because under nutrition and nutrient deficiencies are rampant in this region. However, many Caribbean populations have been found to represent the "middle stages" of the nutritional transition with under nutrition and obesity coexisting. Conversely, African-Americans and black populations in the United Kingdom suffer the unfortunate consequences of caloric excess and diets high in fat and animal products, and have thus been classified as members of the "later stages". Included in this classification is the stark reality that an increasing proportion of people consume the types of diets associated with a number of chronic diseases. The end result as observed by Luke et al. is that "Obesity, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), hypertension, coronary heart disease, and certain cancers all follow an east-to-west gradient of increasing prevalence"

Famine Relief: Just a Simple Matter of Supplying Food?

In an age of unprecedented surplus, there are still over 800 million people worldwide who are subject to constant famine conditions and resultant malnutrition. The roots of famine are grounded in poverty, war and civil strife, natural disaster, drought, inequitable land distribution, and population growth rates that exceed food production. The costs of famine in terms of human suffering and loss of life are astounding. The objective of this paper is to examine the global response to famine, assess the efficacy of this response, and offer suggestions for how it might be improved. Currently, the famine relief system consists of loosely affiliated organizations without any overarching regulatory body to oversee and evaluate each organization or coordinate individual responses. Many of the criticisms of the system are age old including poor inter-agency coordination, sluggish responses to crisis situations, and technical incompetence. However, despite these shortcomings, it is certain that without an international famine relief system, the toll of famine would be greater.

Lycopene and Mr. Prostate: Best Friends Forever

Lycopene is one of over 600 carotenoids found in human plasma and it is responsible for the red pigment found in tomatoes, watermelons, and red grapefruits. Its structure consists of 11 conjugated double bonds that are all in the trans form, with a half-life of 11-14 days. Carotenoids are absorbed in the intestine and transported in the serum via their incorporation into chylomicrons. Heating or processing tomatoes has been shown to increase lycopene absorption by converting it from the trans form into the cis form. Lycopene is known to be one of the strongest biological quenchers of free radicals derived from oxygen, and is therefore, one of the most powerful and effective dietary sources of antioxidants. The risk of prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, has been significantly linked to lycopene levels in the body. Studies have indicated that prostate cancer patients have less lycopene and more oxidized lipids and proteins in their body in comparison to controls. Increased lycopene levels in the blood, prostate, and diet have all been correlated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.

Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by Low-Income Americans

Low-income Americans consume fewer total fruits and vegetables daily than the average for Americans of all incomes. Fruit and vegetable consumption by the poor is affected by many factors, including access, availability, cost, taste, convenience, and perishability. Cost is of higher relative importance to low-income Americans than the rest of the population. In 2000, low-income households spent less money per person on fruits and vegetables than wealthier Americans but spent a similar percentage of their at-home food budget on fruits and vegetables. This suggests that the poor are not sacrificing fruit and vegetable expenditures in order to purchase other types of food at home but rather spend less money on fruits and vegetables at home because they spend less money on total food at home. Efforts to improve fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income Americans should address the factors affecting consumption uncovered by researchers.