This is Chapter 8 of “The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning” by Sally Goddard Blythe. This chapter is about diet and how diet affects the brain.
The beginning of the chapter discusses different theories about the role of diet in ancient mankind, and questions why human babies are born with so much subcutaneous fat. The author also discusses research that has been found that for brain development, the ratio of Omega –3 and Omega-6 fats are about in a one to one balance. “Omega-3 fatty acids are relatively scarce in the land food chain, but predominate in the marine food chain. It is possible that at one time in our ancestral history, seafood formed a much larger proportion of the diet than in modern times.” The stores of fat laid down before birth provides a storehouse of sorts for the first years of life when the brain is rapidly myelinating. (Remember, myelination is the fatty sheaths that are laid around nerves to make nerve conduction faster).
The author discusses low birth weight babies, and how these babies are prone to more neurologic impairment and also at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and renal failure later in life. Low-birth babies are actually more susceptible to diabetes and prone to obesity in adulthood due to the insulin producing cells of the pancreas being “over-worked”. This information is nothing new to those of us in the medical field, but I do wonder how many parents know this. I also find that this book spends so much time going through different things leading to a child having challenges and rarely seems to focus on what would help,(at least yet), so I worried that parents reading this would be upset and feel hopeless. If you have had a low birth weight baby and this information is new to you, please don’t panic discuss this with your health care team! Your health care provider will have more up-to-date information than what is in this book.
One of the best ways to protect all of our children, low birth weight or not, is to breastfeed. Human milk is high in essential fatty acids,which helps in a number of ways, including such things as forming the membrane barriers around cells, determining the fluidity and chemical reactivity of membranes, serving as a starting point for hormone-like substances that help regulate blood pressure, platelet stickiness and renal function and more.
But a lack of vitamin and mineral co-factors, particularly zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B3, B6, and C, prevents synthesis of fatty acids. This points to “the importance of a varied and healthy diet at all times of life, but particularly prior to and during pregnancy and breast-feeding – times when modern women are sometimes tempted to restrict their diet…” The author also points out that a healthy gut bacteria and flora helps set the stage for the efficient absorption of nutrients.
In the next post, we will take a peek at some of the vitamins and minerals necessary for brain development and fatty acid absorption.