Genetics and heritability can only partially explain variation in intelligence among children. It is known for a fact that the main determinant of a person’s IQ is his genetic make-up. Genetics supplies a basic plan for brain development. The architecture of the brain, although initially framed by genetic factors, is continually modified by environmental factors critical to the eventual structure and function of this complex body part(ref 1). The genetic plan instructs the basic properties of the nerve cells and lays down the basic rules for interconnecting nerve cells within and across circuits.
However, studies have shown that there are environmental factors that can affect brain development and behaviour. Nutrition is one of the most important epigenetic factors that can significantly affect brain development and behavior(ref 2). Nutrients provide building blocks that play a critical role in cell proliferation, DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter and hormone metabolism, and are important constituents of enzyme systems in the brain (ref 3,4,5,6,7).
The critical window of opportunity
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the early years of a child’s life plays an important role in his future health and development. One of the main reasons is the speed of brain development during this crucial period- which begins before birth and continues into early childhood. The development of the brain extends into adulthood, but the first few years build a foundation for learning, health and life success.
90% of brain growth and crucial aspects of its development occurs in the first 5 years of life. This is a critical window of opportunity to maximize a child’s learning potential through nutrition. Nutritional inadequacies during this critical period of brain growth, often lead to irreversible cognitive deficits culminating in impaired work productivity in adulthood. Brain development is faster in the early years of life compared to the rest of the body, which may make it more vulnerable to dietary deficiencies(ref 8)
DHA, The essential brain food
Several nutrients in the diet are known to affect cognition and influence learning. However, DHA in particular is recognized as essential for optimal brain function. The role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in children’s neurodevelopment has been an innovative and exciting area of research over the past 25 years. DHA is a major building block of the brain. It is the most abundant omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acid present in the brain and is found in oily fish such as salmons, sardines and tuna. Several studies suggest that higher maternal fish intake during pregnancy and lactation is associated with higher language and social skills, higher IQ, and more positive behavior in their children.
Research has shown that improving DHA status contributes to brain development by supporting these parameters: visual recognition, positive effects on motor skill development in early childhood, problem solving ability, improvement in short-term memory, reasoning and cognitive speediness(ref 9,10).
Most scientists agree that DHA plays an important role in brain development in a review of some 50 studies by McCann JC and Ames BN. This review concluded that higher DHA in children’s diets translates into better brain function, especially for cognitive and visual function which in turn translates into better school performance of children(ref 11). Intervention trials revealed that the amount of DHA intake is closely tied to intelligence and cognitive performance in infancy and childhood(ref 12). This has led to health authorities recommending a minimum intake of DHA from the diet(ref 13). Therefore, efforts to increase the intake of DHA in children should be supported(ref 13). While it can be synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid, another plant- based omega-3 fatty acid, this process is quiet limited and inefficient thus necessitating the need to consume it directly from food or supplements.
Feed their growing brains
Worldwide, dairy plays an important role in nutrient security. However in some parts of Nigeria, children have little or no milk in their daily diet. A well-balanced growing-up milk can serve as a valuable addition to their daily diet and thus as a safety net, by providing a substantial part of daily-required (essential) nutrients including DHA.
Peak 456 Growing-up milk is specially formulated with DHA and other key nutrients to support brain development in children aged 4-6 years.
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