Breastfeeding: How breast milk promotes newborn brain development | Gray matter | Science

Breastfeeding: How breast milk promotes newborn brain development |  Gray matter |  Science

2023-10-02 05:20:00

Breast milk contains nutritional substances that promote the development and general health of the newborn. But whether these substances can affect their brain development and future intelligence is less known. Therefore, not long ago A study by researchers at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Saudi Arabia attempted to determine whether breastfeeding had affected the general and social intelligence of girls aged 7 to 9 years.. They thus compared the results of those who during the first six months of life were fed only with breast milk, with breast milk and bottles, or with bottles only. 111 girls in total.

The results showed that babies fed exclusively with breast milk when they reached 7 to 9 years of age had a higher body mass index compared to those who did so while combining their feeding with the bottle or with it alone. Likewise, babies who only received breast milk in their first six months of life had higher general and social intelligence quotients than those who were exclusively bottle-fed. These last results, although they lacked statistical significance and therefore called for new studies of a higher level and number of experimental subjects, left the door open to the possibility that breast milk and its ingredients may also specifically contribute to brain development and future intelligence. of newborns.

Now, a new and consistent study from the University of California at San Diego published in the prestigious journal PNAS shows how breast milk can make that contribution. The key seems to be myo-inositol, a very abundant sugar in breast milk and early lactation. Researchers have observed that this sugar intensely promotes the formation of synapses, that is, connections between excitatory neurons in the brain. In rat neuron cultures they have observed that the greater the amount of this sugar, the greater the amount of connections between the neurons. That is, the more myo-inositol, the greater the capacity of neurons to form new synapses. In plates of human brain tissue, this sugar also has a powerful biological activity, increasing the number and size of postsynaptic specializations and the density of excitatory synapses, that is, a biological revolution capable of promoting the brain development of the newborn.

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Whether these modifications that breast milk causes in brain wiring can be related to the baby’s future intelligence is something that will require new research, but everything indicates that yes, it can be related. As we already had the opportunity to explain in a previous Gray Matter article, intelligence, as the ability to process cognitive information, lies primarily in the cerebral cortex. In it, humans have 16.3 billion neurons, each of which can in turn relate to several thousand other neurons, that is, several thousand synapses, thus giving rise to a multiple and intricate network of neurons. brain interconnections which is what differentiates our brain and intelligence from those of other animals such as elephants which, even with a brain much larger than ours, only have 9.1 billion neurons in their cerebral cortex.

Although neuronal interconnections, that is, synapses, can continue to form or disappear throughout life, particularly at the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence, it cannot be ruled out that the newborn who, thanks to milk maternal, can establish a high neuronal connection in the first months of his life, starting with advantages so that the experience to which he is subjected to the rest of his present and future vital conditions generates in him that higher analytical and social intelligence quotient that they aimed for. in their interesting work the aforementioned researchers from Saudi Arabia.

Myo-inositol, a carbohydrate with a composition similar to glucose, in addition to breast milk, is also present in numerous foods such as black beans, lentils, peas, rice, whole grains, melon, bananas and nuts. Among other functions, it facilitates the effect of the powerful hormone insulin, which can reduce gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Such a wide presence in foods and the knowledge of its spectacular way of promoting the development of the newborn’s brain by expanding neuronal connections also makes it a good dietary supplement for pediatric nutrition, especially in circumstances of insufficient or complicated breastfeeding. maternal.

Gray matter is a space that tries to explain, in an accessible way, how the brain creates the mind and controls behavior. The senses, motivations and feelings, sleep, learning and memory, language and consciousness, as well as their main disorders, will be analyzed in the conviction that knowing how they work is equivalent to knowing ourselves better and increasing our well-being and relationships with other people.

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