Millions of infants and adults around the world benefit from nutrition technology that began with space research.
In the early 1980s NASA’s Closed Environment Life Support System program explored the use of microalgae as a food supply, oxygen source and waste disposal catalyst on long duration interplanetary missions. Scientists continued work independently after the completion of the program, founding what would become Martek Biosciences, a leader in microalgae research and development. Martek research soon identified (Crypthecodinium cohnii) algae which produces high levels of DHA omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid), and a fungus (Mortierella alpine) that yields ARA (arachidonic acid), another essential fatty acid.
Both of these essential fatty acids occur naturally in human breast- milk and are important to healthy infant development. At the time, none of the available infant formulas provided these important nutrients. To address this deficiency, Martek developed Formulaid – an algae based supplement that could be added to baby formula. DHA and ARA rich Formulaid dietary supplementation can be particularly vital for premature and low birth weight infants who may not get their full allotment in utero.
The British Nutrition Foundation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Human Nutrition recognize DHA and ARA as beneficial additives in pre and full term infant formulas and as nutrients for women during pregnancy and lactation. Formulaid is now found in nearly all U.S. infant formulas and in infant formulas in more than 75 other countries, and is consumed by more than 33 million babies worldwide.
DHA is found throughout the body and is critical for healthy brain and eye development and function and has been shown to support heart health through adulthood. Just as calcium is essential for building strong bones, DHA ensures that the cells in the brain, retina, heart, and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly. Martek and the National Institutes of Health continue to study the potential benefits of DHA such as improved cognitive function, and reduced risk of diseases including Alzheimer’s.
Today a growing range of products containing DHA for children and adults are found around the world through household names such as Minute Maid, Horizon Organic, Kellogg and Yoplait. What began as space travel research now benefits our lives right here on Earth.
Martek is now a component of DSM Nutritional Products, a Space Certification Program partner.