Sufficient nutrient intake essential for neurocognitive development in infants and young children

Summary of a review by Kadosh et al 2021

The review by Kadosh et al describes the role of nutrients in cognitive, emotional and neural development in infants and young children (0-59 months). It was stated that nutrition has a long-lasting and generally irreversible impact on one’s cognitive development and mental well-being. The authors wrote that consuming sufficient quantities of all macro- and micronutrients is crucial for healthy brain development in early stages of life. The review points out it seems improbable that one single nutrient specifically is the key to neurocognitive development, so the multitude of nutrients should be considered.

Key points from the review:

  • Adequate nutrition is essential for neurocognitive development, especially in infants and young children.
  • It is well known that long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), minerals and vitamins are essential for normal brain development in early stages of life.
  • An increasing number of articles are published on the role of polar lipids, psychobiotics, dietary protein and essential amino acids on cognitive, emotional and neural development. These nutrients show promising results for development in infants and young children.
  • The gut-brain axis (GBA), a collection of two-way communication routes between the gut and the central nervous system, represents a new and promising target for impacting healthy brain development in the early stages of life.

Psychobiotics as novel and promising nutrients

Psychobiotics are molecules that can interact with the GBA and positively influence the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The authors explained that psychobiotics consist of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics exert an effect on the brain by releasing neuroactive substances, while prebiotics exert their effect by selectively feeding beneficial gut bacteria, thereby stimulating their growth and activity with significant effects on brain development and function. It was stated in the review that the intake of psychobiotics not only affects brain development but also behaviour and psychological processes. The review concluded that limited but promising studies found promising effects of psychobiotics on psychological mechanisms, behaviour and brain development.

An overview of nutrients and their potential influence on neurocognitive development

Figure 1. Obtained from the research by Kadosh et al 2021. Summary of how nutrients can influence neurocognitive development, by affecting the brain directly, or through the GBA. Abbreviations: LCPUFA: long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid; LA: linoleic acid; ALA: alpha-linolenic acid; DHA: docosahexaenoic acid; IQ: intelligence quotient; AD: autism-spectrum disorder; ADD: attention deficit disorder; GBA: Gut-Brain Axis.

Conclusion from the review

The authors concluded that the consumption of sufficient amounts of all macro- and micronutrients is crucial for normal brain and neurocognitive development in young children and infants. The authors described polar lipids, essential amino acids and psychobiotics as promising emerging nutrients for supporting healthy neurodevelopment.

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