Plasma amino acids were measured in 35 preterm infants, of whom 11 weighed less than 1000 g and 24 weighed between 1000 g and 1500 g at the time of sampling. Repeat samples were obtained in 18 at least seven days later. Seventeen infants were fed with preterm formula milk and 18 with expressed maternal breast milk at one to two hourly intervals during the study period. Formula fed infants gained weight faster than those fed on breast milk but there was little difference in amino acid patterns. Infants fed on breast milk were more likely to have concentrations of essential amino acids below the mid trimester fetal range than formula fed infants, but few infants in either feeding group had values above the fetal range. Those that did were equally distributed between both groups. Only two samples approached toxic concentrations, both in the group fed breast milk. The ratio of branched chain to aromatic amino acids was higher in the group fed on formula after correction for post conceptional age, implying that liver maturation may be accelerated by formula feeding. No correlations were found between plasma amino acid concentrations and nitrogen retention or metabolisable energy intake.
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