Nourishing A Healthy Brain: What Nutrients Do Infants Need Now?

schedule 4 min read
Topic(s): Brain Development Neuroscience

Reviewed the association of specific lipids and phospholipids with neurodevelopmental outcomes, and advances and future research in infant nutrition.

Speakers and Topics

Professor Atul Singhal

  • Optimising Early Life Nutrition for Brain Development

Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD

  • Understanding the Role of Choline in Infant Brain Development

Symposium Overview

Good nutrition is essential for proper growth and development during the first year of life. Decades of nutrition research have shown that adequate provision of nutrients during gestation and the early postnatal period is necessary to support proper brain development. Thus, delineating the role of individual nutrients, especially those involved in a multitude of biological functions, remains important not only to characterize biological significance, but also to determine the best way to provide infants with these nutrients when breastfeeding is impossible or not chosen. The faculty discussed the role of specific components of human milk and infant formulas, and explored their association with specific developmental outcomes. This symposium focused on phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, and those packaged within the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM).

Professor Atul Singhal reviewed the understanding of how lipids are uniquely packaged within the MFGM. The MFGM surrounds lipid droplets during their secretion in the alveolar lumen of the lactating mammary gland. MFGM proteins represent only 1-4% of total milk protein content; nevertheless, the MFGM consists of a complex system of integral and peripheral proteins, enzymes, and lipids. Despite their low classical nutritional value, MFGM proteins have been reported to play an important role in various cellular processes and defense mechanisms in the newborn. Increased understanding of the structure and function of the MFGM has translated into improvements in infant formulas. Human milk is the tool by which the mother continues her protection of the newborn child. Breast milk not only delivers nutrients to the newborn, but also informational molecules representing the means of communication between the maternal mammary epithelium and the gastrointestinal system of the breast-fed infant. Additionally, milk not only delivers passive immunity to the breast-fed infant, but supplies the necessary instructions for the development of the intestinal mucosa, the immune system, and the nervous system. MFGM proteins, however, are also sensitive to modification during isolation and processing, and care should be taken to standardize the composition and characteristics of the membrane to maintain its unique properties during application in food products. Professor Singhal presented the evidence linking consumption of key components of the MFGM and developmental outcomes, as well as reviewed current concepts that are meritorious for future research. In addition, he discussed the importance of various long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and how ensuring their intake is maximized in early life directly impacts neurologic development of young infants, particularly those born prematurely.

Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD explained the role of choline in infant brain development. Within the past 17 years, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that choline be considered an essential nutrient; however, there are many remaining questions regarding the best way to develop nutritional strategies for infants facing various medical challenges. Before these strategies can be perfected, it is necessary to better understand whether there are particular periods of susceptibility when deficiency may lead to more severe outcomes. Dr. Zeisel summarized what is known about the importance of choline in the human body and the nutritional role of phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine.

Studies assessing the effects of these phospholipids on a variety of developmental outcomes were reviewed and areas for future investigation were summarized. In addition, variability among human populations in requirements for these nutrients was emphasized and its impact on the relevance of global nutrition requirements was reviewed.


2015 ESPGHAN WN Symposium