Advances in Baby Formula

Some­one is fi­nally try­ing.

Four years ago I was shop­ping for baby for­mula. I was hor­rified to dis­cover that most for­mu­las were mostly fruc­tose and soy­bean oil. In­clud­ing the fancy ‘or­ganic’ ones. Hu­mans di­gest fruc­tose hep­at­i­cally, and over­con­sump­tion of fruc­tose has been im­pli­cated in a va­ri­ety of mod­ern health prob­lems in­clud­ing di­a­betes and atheroscle­ro­sis. Why would we feed it to our ba­bies as their pri­mary sugar?

Oh right. It’s su­per cheap.

Soy­bean oil is a plant oil high in polyun­sat­u­rated fats and low in sat­u­rated fats. It and other high omega-6 oils have been im­pli­cated in nu­mer­ous health prob­lems. It is no­to­ri­ously the only fat found in the tpn (in­tra­venous) for­mu­la­tion given to in­fants, which causes liver failure and death. The FDA will not ap­prove a tpn with the ap­pro­pri­ate fat con­tents to keep in­fants al­ive, spark­ing out­rage. Why would we feed our ba­bies soy­bean oil in­stead of milk fat? It was pointed out to me that this was prob­a­bly re­lated to shelf-sta­bil­ity of the fat in ques­tion. Milk fat likely spoils faster.

Plus, soy­bean oil is cheap. As is fruc­tose. And made with ‘or­ganic’ veg­eta­bles…

So, I sprang for the pre­mium for­mula which con­tained lac­tose in­stead of fruc­tose, but still was mostly soy­bean oil.

Four years later, I am pleas­antly sur­prised by the rise of much more so­phis­ti­cated baby for­mu­las. En­famil En­spire, and it looks like some other for­mu­las, have added a more com­plex mix of sug­ars and fats. The pri­mary sugar is still lac­tose, but in ad­di­tion there are galac­tooli­gosac­cha­rides and poly­dex­trose. Th­ese pre­biotic sug­ars pass through the stom­ach undi­gested, but serve as a food source for bac­te­ria in the gut and slowly re­lease sugar as they are di­gested there. They are thought to lead to healthier gut bac­te­ria and more sta­ble blood sugar.

The pri­mary fat is still a veg­etable oil blend (still high in omega 6’s), but it now con­tains co­conut oil which is high in sat­u­rated fat. Some milk fat has been added and sup­ple­mented with omega 3s DHA and ARA. One of the newest ad­vance­ments is the ad­di­tion of MFGM (milk­fat glob­ule mem­brane), which is a mix of gan­glio­sides and phos­pho­lipids thought to play an im­por­tant part in cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment. If you’ve spent any time study­ing or re­search­ing weird Ashke­nazi re­ces­sive mu­ta­tions, you’ll know that many of them are mu­ta­tions in brain lipid metabolo­ism in­clud­ing: Nie­man-Pick’s, Fabry’s, Tay Sach’s, Krabbe’s, and Gaucher’s dis­eases. It has long been hy­poth­e­sized that hav­ing a sin­gle copy of these traits is re­lated to higher IQ in the Ashke­nazi pop­u­la­tion, even if hav­ing two can be fatal. Suffers of Gaucher’s dis­ease are dis­pro­por­tionately rep­re­sented in en­g­ineer­ing and math­e­mat­ics. In any case, you want to have good brain lipids. Let’s put them in for­mula.

Is the ex­act mix of com­po­nents now used in these new for­mu­las the best we can do with our knowl­edge and tech level? No. But it is a vast and ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous for­mu­las of fruc­tose and soy­bean oil.

Why did it take this long, and why am I so sur­prised that we have it? I’m a cynic. I had as­sumed that for­mula was the way it was be­cause of some reg­u­la­tions some­where, and that com­pa­nies didn’t want to deal with mak­ing changes. Chil­dren are too im­por­tant to learn about, etc. Maybe this was true and de­mand fi­nally got so loud that it was fi­nally worth the ex­tra cost and effort. When I think about the state of nu­tri­tion sci­ence twenty years ago, it’s un­sur­pris­ing that for­mula looked the way it did. It takes time for a cul­ture to shift as well. The peo­ple who cared most about what their ba­bies were eat­ing went crazy with de­mand­ing that ev­ery­one breast feed (no mat­ter what the prac­ti­cal re­al­ity of your cir­cum­stance was). Breast­feed­ing be­came a moral im­per­a­tive and breast­milk a sa­cred sym­bol of MotherLove, which could never be repli­cated in a food sci­ence lab.

What will the out­comes with the new for­mula be? We will prob­a­bly *never* know. Chil­dren are too im­por­tant to learn about. We don’t even have a good way of com­par­ing for­mula to breast milk. Every­thing is con­founded. Noth­ing is con­trol­led. The best we can say right now is at least we know the out­comes on the old for­mula were only as bad as they are. That is to say, we are still un­cer­tain if it was worse than breast milk, and there­fore it must be at least mostly fine. In any case, I’m buy­ing the new stuff.

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