Dietary nucleotides are nonprotein nitrogenous compounds that are found in high concentrations in breast milk and are thought to be conditionally essential nutrients in infancy. A high nucleotide intake has been suggested to explain some of the benefits of breastfeeding compared with formula feeding and to promote infant growth. However, relatively few large-scale randomized trials have tested this hypothesis in healthy infants.
We tested the hypothesis that nucleotide supplementation of formula benefits early infant growth.
Occipitofrontal head circumference, weight, and length were assessed in infants who were randomly assigned to groups fed nucleotide-supplemented (31 mg/L; n = 100) or control formula without nucleotide supplementation (n = 100) from birth to the age of 20 weeks, and in infants who were breastfed (reference group; n = 101).
Infants fed with nucleotide-supplemented formula had greater occipitofrontal head circumference at ages 8, 16, and 20 weeks than infants fed control formula (mean difference in z scores at 8 weeks: 0.4 [95% confidence interval: 0.1–0.7]; P = .006) even after adjustment for potential confounding factors (P = .002). Weight at 8 weeks and the increase in both occipitofrontal head circumference and weight from birth to 8 weeks were also greater in infants fed nucleotide-supplemented formula than in those fed control formula.
Our data support the hypothesis that nucleotide supplementation leads to increased weight gain and head growth in formula-fed infants. Therefore, nucleotides could be conditionally essential for optimal infant growth in some formula-fed populations. Additional research is needed to test the hypothesis that the benefits of nucleotide supplementation for early head growth, a critical period for brain growth, have advantages for long-term cognitive development.