The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development

The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development

(The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days)

Every child has a right to optimal cognitive, social, and emotional behavioral development. The cognitive, social, and emotional parts of the brain continue to develop across the lifespan. However, the brain’s growth and development trajectory is heterogeneous across time. A great deal of the brain’s ultimate structure and capacity is shaped early in life before the age of 3 years. Policy makers have recently placed a great deal of emphasis on the “first 1000 days” and “0–3” (years) as golden opportunities to influence child outcome. The first 1000 days correspond roughly to the time from conception through 2 years of age. However, a closer examination of the trajectory of anatomical and functional brain development combined with clinical and epidemiological studies of neuro developmental outcome suggests a slightly broader window extending to three years .The brain is not a homogeneous organ. Rather, it is comprised of multiple anatomical regions and processes (e.g., myelination), each with unique developmental trajectories. Many of these regions have developmental trajectories that begin and accelerate in fetal life or shortly after birth. For example, myelination abruptly increases at 32 weeks gestation and is most active in the first 2 postnatal years.           The monoamine neurotransmitter systems involved in mediating reward, affect, and mood begin their development pre-natally continuing at a brisk pace until at least age 3 years. The hippocampus, which is crucial for mediating recognition and spatial memory, begins its rapid growth phase at approximately 32 weeks gestation, continuing for at least the first 18 postnatal months Even the prefrontal cortex, which orchestrates more complex processing behaviors, such a attention and multi-tasking, has the onset of its growth spurt in the first 6 postnatal months Keeping brain areas on developmental trajectory is critical not only for promoting behaviors served by the individual regions, but also more importantly, to ensure time-coordinated development of brain areas that are designed to work together as circuits that mediate complex behaviors. Early life events, including nutritional deficiencies and toxic stress, can have differential effects on developing brain regions and processes based on the timing, dose, and duration of those events The importance of timing in particular should be underscored. Neuroscientists and psychologists use terms such as “critical period” and “sensitive period” to describe time epochs of opportunity and vulnerability. Critical periods are typically conceptualized as early-life epochs when alterations to brain structure or function by an environmental factor (e.g., nutrition) result in irreversible long-term consequences Sensitive periods imply an epoch when the brain (or brain region) is more vulnerable to environmental factors, including nutrient deficiencies, but when the effect is not necessarily deterministic. The term “sensitive period” can also be used in a positive manner to describe times when the brain may be particularly receptive to positive nutritional or social stimulation. Both concepts rely on the observation that the young, rapidly developing brain is more vulnerable than the older brain, but also retains a greater degree of plasticity (e.g., recoverability). Over time, the distinction between critical and sensitive periods has become blurred as more research emerges. Although the distinction may become less meaningful, either concept emphasizes the need for pediatricians to focus on making sure the child is receiving adequate nutrition to promote normal brain development in a timely fashion.


By – Asst. Professor – Mrs. Deepa Chand
Department -EDUCATION
UCBMSH Magazine – (YouthRainBow)
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