The Autumn 2019 Issue of Nutraceuticals Now is now available.
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Human infants are unique in the animal world in that a large amount of brain development occurs after birth. Head circumference, considered a proxy for brain volume, increases at the phenomenal rate of 1.1 mm/day, growth by far exceeding that of any other organ in the body. Whether underdevelopment of the human brain at birth is due to a narrow birth canal caused by humans being bipedal or limitations of the mother’s metabolism is hotly debated; but it is beyond dispute that after birth human babies need optimal nutrition to support brain growth.
“Such rapid brain growth places exceptionally high demands on the supply of nutrients, with failure to meet overall nutrient needs having significant consequences for cognitive development,” says Bing Wang, from Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia.
Although babies are born with neurons already formed, synaptic connections between these neurones are largely established after birth. “Nutrients affect multiple brain development processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, signal-transduction pathways, and synaptic plasticity,” explains Wang.
Human breast milk provides the optimal nutrition to support brain development after birth, with many studies demonstrating breast-fed infants show better cognitive performances, memory functions and intelligence quotients (IQ) than formula-fed infants. A meta-analysis of 17 observational studies showed that breast feeding was associated with higher IQ scores by an average of 3.4 points. Intriguingly, a Brazilian birth cohort study found breast feeding had positive associations not only with IQ, but also with adults achieving higher monthly incomes at the age of 30.
This article is available in full in the Summer 2019 issue of Nutraceuticals Now