Thursday, January 14, 2010

Updates on Child Nutrition and Health Seminar (Part 5)

This is a continuation from the previous parts found here.

4. 4th speaker - Dr. Hamid Jan JM (Senior Lecturer, Nutrition Programme, School of Health Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Kubang Kerian) on "Micronutrients and Cognitive Development in Young Children". Dr. Hamid shared on how micronutrients (nutrients needed for life in small quantities) are extremely important not only for normal physical and physiological development but also for maximum mental capability. He particularly mentioned that optimal cognitive performance and development is an innate desire of all parents (which is very true!). He stressed that cognitive development is a life-long process that begins even before pregnancy whereby the mother's micronutrient status before (i.e., when the mother is ovulating) and during pregnancy is found to affect the baby's brain potantial. The damage is further aggravated after birth if the child is also deficient in the ley micronutrients to do with cognitive function for the first 2 years of life. So what are the examples of key micronutrients? They are iodine, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, vitamin B12, copper, choline and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC-PUFA). Each micronutrient has a specific role in cognitive development and any insufficiency during the rapid growth of brain may cause irreversible impairment to cognitive development. Some controversial studies have even linked micronutrient deficiencies to anti-social behaviour and intelligence in industrialized community, thus it is important to prevent micronutrient deficiencies in mothers and infants as it affects individual, family, society and country in different ways. Some other interesting points mentioned during his talk:

  • Barker's Hypothesis (1995), a.k.a. Fetal Origin Hypothesis, states that fetal undernutrition in middle to late gestation (the period during which the embryo develops) not only leads to disproportional fetal growth, but also programmes for coronary heart disease later in life.
  • Nutrients and oxygen level have been known to have influence on babies who are born small (i.e. lesser growth).
  • Nutrients related to brain development: protein, iron (related to production of enzyme), zinc, copper, long-chain polyunsaturted fatty acid and choline.
  • Lack of iron can cause the network of nerve cells in the brain to be cut short, so impulses or messages cannot be connected or send effectively. So iron deficiency affects the child's brain.
  • What can negatively affect fetal brain's iron status? Low maternal iron supply, low placental iron transfer and high fetal iron demand.
  • The first 2 years of a child's life is when brain development is increased, but after 2 years, the brainwave slows down.
  • Multiple micronutrient supplementation showed positive effect in non-verbal intelligence rather than verbal intelligence.

Stay tuned for Part 6!

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