The findings were presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Glasgow.
The study findings suggests that a nutrient-rich diet may have protective effects on brain development in young mice exposed to early-life stress, which reduces their risk of learning and memory issues in later life.
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It has been reported, in humans and animals, that exposure to adversities, such as stress, in early life can have long-lasting effects on brain function, and may lead to cognitive problems in later life. The period just after birth is critical for brain development and demand for nutrients is high, both for energy and as essential building blocks for the developing brain.
Therefore, any deficit in essential nutrients during this time could result in long-lasting abnormalities in brain function, including learning processes. The stress and metabolic processes of the body are closely interlinked, and whether stress-related cognitive problems in early life can be prevented or even reversed by ensuring good nutrition has not been fully investigated.
In this study, Dr Aniko Korosi and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, investigated the effects of essential nutrients on brain function using a mouse model of early-life stress. Early-life stress was mimicked by reducing the amount of maternal care and attention given to pups within the first 2 weeks of birth. By the age of 4 months, these neglected mice show several impairments, including increased body fat levels, high stress hormone levels and poor performance in learning and memory tasks.
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However, mice given a cocktail of micronutrients (including B vitamins and essential fatty acids), for just one week during the early-life stress period, showed improvements in the same learning and memory tasks at 4 months.
Dr Korosi states, “Our findings indicate that good nutrition during exposure to stress in early life could be protective of brain function, and may even help children cope better in later life. However, much more research is needed to establish whether the mouse data is transferrable to humans.”
Dr Korosi’s team now plan to investigate whether a nutrient-rich diet implemented later in life has any beneficial effects on reversing the consequences of early-life stress.
Dr Korosi comments, “An ever growing body of research, in animals and humans, indicates that experiences in early childhood can have very long-lasting effects on our health and wellbeing in the future. This work is a step towards understanding some of these processes and suggests that we should carefully consider the quality and consequences of our diet and lifestyle much earlier in life.”