Diet for Brain Development, From the
Beginning By Rosalie Marion Bliss
November 21, 2007
Studies looking into how diet and nutrition affect central nervous
system development from birth are being conducted by Agricultural Research
Service (ARS)-funded scientists. They are
using noninvasive tools to assess infant, toddler and school-aged children's
psychological, neurological and physiological development, as well as other
Healthy newborns soak up information from their surroundings while
their developing brains sprout billions of nerve cell connections, or synapses.
The brain's "hardwiring" actually starts in the womb, directed by the growing
fetus' genetic game plan acquired from both parents. Good nutrition is key to
supporting the growth of this network of neurons from the beginning.
ARS, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, is funding research at the
Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC),
which is managed cooperatively by ARS and the
Arkansas Children's Hospital in
Little Rock, Ark.
Among other projects, Terry Pivik, a psychophysiologist who heads the
ACNC's Brain Function Laboratory, and
Gilchrist, who heads the ACNC's Clinical Nutrition Unit, are interested in
defining best feeding practices for brain development among infants and
For a project called The Beginnings Study, researchers are
using measures of brain activity, behavior and growth to study hundreds of
infants who have been reared exclusively on one of the three most commonly fed
infant diets: breast milk, cow's milk formula or soy-based formula.
So far, preliminary results indicate that there are slight cognitive
and language advantages among the breast-fed infants at 6 and 12 months,
compared with infants in the two formula-fed groups. The researchers caution
that these differences will require further evaluation in the context of other
contributory factors. The study will continue for several more years.
Brain development continues throughout early childhood and is now
believed to undergo a second wave of dramatic functional changes during
adolescence, according to experts.
about this research in the November/December 2007 issue of Agricultural