Monday, September 16, 2013

Diet during pregnancy and early life affects children’s behaviour and intelligence

The statement “you are what you eat” is proving significant for child development.

Researchers from the NUTRIMENTHE project looked at hundreds of European families with young children over a 5 year period. They examined the effect of B-vitamins, folic acid, breast milk versus formula milk, iron, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids - on the cognitive, emotional and behavioural development of children from before birth to age nine.

The study found that folic acid, which is recommended during the first three months of pregnancy, can reduce the likelihood of behavioural problems during early childhood. Eating oily fish is also very beneficial, not only for the omega-3 fatty acids they which are ‘building blocks’ for brain cells, but also for the iodine content which has a positive effect on reading ability in children when measured at age nine.

A long-term study was needed as explained by Professor Cristina Campoy, who led the project.

“Short term studies seem unable to detect the real influence of nutrition in early life”, explained Prof Cristina Campoy, “NUTRIMENTHE was designed to be a long-term study, as the brain takes a long time to mature, and early deficiencies may have far-reaching effects. So, early nutrition is most important.”

Many other factors can affect mental performance in children including; the parent’s educational level, socio-economic status of the parents, age of the parents and the genetic background of the mother and child. This can influence how certain nutrients are processed and transferred during pregnancy and breastfeeding and in turn, affect mental performance.

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