Brain development in children

15/05/2024

Besides focusing on weight gain and height development, how to develop children’s brain is also an aspect of concern for all parents.

The first 1000 days of life are the golden period to stimulate brain development in children. Mothers need to prepare their children with the strongest foundation right from the first years of their lives, so that they are ready to step forward and have a bright future later. There are golden periods if the mother ignores then both mother and child have no chance to do it again, especially the outstanding brain development milestones in the first years of life.

At birth, the average child’s brain is about 1/4 the size of an adult’s brain. Incredibly, it doubled in size in its first year. It continues to grow to about 80% of its adult size by age 3 and 90% – almost adult – by age 5.

5 stages of brain development in children from newborn to 6 years old (Photo: Ministry of Health)

The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop required connections to become a healthy, capable, and successful adult. Babies’ brains are like sponges, eager to “absorb” new experiences, lessons, and skills from their surroundings. A child’s early experiences can help establish a learning foundation or a fragile foundation for cognitive, emotional, and social abilities throughout a person’s life. Children need comprehensive brain development in 4 key aspects:

– Intelligence: related to the baby’s thinking process such as exploring or recognizing objects, handling situations.

– Movement: related to the coordination of body parts such as flipping, rolling, crawling, rolling, drawing, jumping…

– Emotions: related to interactions such as laughing, crying, imitating, recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions

– Communication: related to language such as expressing through gestures and conversation.

Nutrition plays a particularly important role in your baby’s comprehensive brain development. “A well-nourished child has the energy to respond and learn from stimuli in their environment,” says nutritionist Jasly Koo. Below are essential nutrients for brain development in children.

1. DHA

In the structure of the human brain, up to 60% of the mass is fat, mainly omega (DHA, EPA, ALA); The remaining 40% is water, protein, carbohydrates and salt. Therefore, parents need to balance and supplement enough of these substances, especially in the early stages of their baby’s life, to support their child’s good intellectual development.

Preclinical models show that DHA is required for neurogenesis and neuronal migration, membrane fatty acid composition and fluidity, and synapse formation. DHA has been shown to enable memory development and reaction speed of young people. DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids have improved memory and behavior. A diet low in omega fats increases the likelihood of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In a survey of nearly 200 students, those who ate a diet low in omega-3s were 31% more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Low blood levels of DHA have been linked to mood swings, anger, and learning disabilities. Low blood DHA levels led to impaired reading ability, working memory, and greater emotional responsibility in a study of 7- to 9-year-old students.

Another study of boys ages 6 to 12 found that those with lower DHA levels had higher rates of behavioral problems such as anger and difficulty sleeping.

Foods rich in DHA

2. Choline

Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, closely related to children’s memory and future learning ability. Choline deficiency can also lead to cognitive deficits. One study reported that infants of women supplemented with 930 mg of choline chloride per day, compared with infants of women receiving 480 mg of choline per day, showed improved information processing speed measured by a visual attention task.

Foods rich in Choline   

3. Folic acid

Folic acid plays an essential role in the formation of the child’s neural tube during fetal life. Supplementing folic acid during pregnancy is extremely necessary to ensure the child’s brain development.

A study conducted in 2011, comparing two groups of mothers who did and did not use folic acid, showed that the group who used folic acid had a reduced chance of having children with language delay. Julvez and colleagues found that in 4-year-old children, scores on language, executive motor, and verbal executive functions on the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Ability, as well as scores on Social competence and inattention symptoms on the California Preschool Social Competence Scale are positively associated with children’s mothers’ use of folic acid supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Similarly, Wehby and Murray evaluated the effects of folic acid supplement use at conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy on cognitive development in 3-year-old children using a 16-item test. Denver developmental screening trial and found that prenatal folic acid supplementation has a positive effect on children’s overall cognitive and gross motor development.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom reported that 7-year-old children of mothers who received 400 μg of folic acid per day during pregnancy had higher scores on the Intelligence Scale than children of mothers who did not use folic acid supplement.

Folic acid has a major role in children’s brain development

3. Taurine

This nutrient promotes the growth and development of the nervous system as well as cell proliferation and differentiation, and plays an important role in the development of brain neurons. Taurine is essential for the eyes and brain right from the fetal stage, as it is a structural component of nerve and visual cells.

In the first two years after birth, the brain and vision continue to develop strongly, so the need for Taurine is still very high. From 3-6 years old onwards, Taurine participates in enzymes and metabolites inside nerve cells, helping cells work more accurately, durably, resiliently, fatigue longer, and most importantly, protects cell structures from damage caused by oxidative radicals, keeping cells intact and healthy. Taurine concentrations are exceptionally high in the developing brain, further demonstrating its importance in development. Indeed, a relationship between plasma Taurine and neurodevelopment has been suggested.

Taurine promotes growth and development of the nervous system 

4. Increase physical activity

Along with providing nutritional supplements rich in nutrients good for the brain, parents can also help promote their baby’s brain development through physical activities.

Reading books with your kids allows them to expand human knowledge, increase their understanding and thinking ability. This is one of the best ways to promote your child’s brain development. Even before children can recognize letters or words, reading helps develop language and communication skills. Hearing words and seeing images connects the two in a child’s mind. Repeating the same books over and over enables more recognition between the words you say and the images.

Reading books to your kids means you are exploring the world of knowledge together

Participating in exploratory activities also stimulates the development of physical activity and creativity. Play is a great way to help young children’s brains. Playing games not only helps children learn new knowledge, increase their thinking and creativity, but also brings laughter and comfort to children.

In addition, this method also helps children increase their communication skills as well as allows them to develop some soft skills. Upon reality exploration, kids alway ask thousands of questions, parents should patiently answer in the most understandable way. When children ask questions, it proves that they are thinking and processing the information they observe. Parents, don’t forget to ask your child again to better understand their thinking. This is an extremely effective way to help your baby’s brain develop.

Childhood is the age of passion for exploring and learning about the world around us 

With the desire to bring a great nutritional solution for the brain development of Vietnamese children, the Nutricare Medical Nutrition Institute – USA (NMNI-USA) and Nutricare have launched the product Smarta Grow. The product contains a duo of nutrients DHA and Choline to help your baby be smart. More specifically, Smarta Grow also contains a set of 3 nutrients Calcium, K2, D3 to support gaining outstanding height, which has been clinically proven to help babies increase height after 2 months. 2 glasses of Smarta Grow per day meets 100% of your child’s calcium needs according to US FDA recommendations. The 52 essential nutrients in the product also help children eat well, grow tall and gain weight healthily; With fiber, it supports your baby’s digestive system healthy and prevents constipation.

The brain is the command center of the body and holds many important functions such as controlling the functions of organs, controlling movements, activities, emotions, cognitive abilities (learning and memory) so to create a foundation for kids’ healthy and successful development in the future, each parent needs to focus on their child’s brain development.

References:

1.https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/

2. https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/

3.https://helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/HelpfulRes/Articles/HowEncourageBrainDev/index.html#:~:text=Brain
%20development%
20affects%20all%20areas,social%20and%20emotional%2C%20and%20cognitive.

4.https://www.healthxchange.sg/children/food-nutrition/essential-nutrients-brain-development-children-iron-choline-antioxidants

5.https://helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/HelpfulRes/Articles/HowEncourageBrainDev/index.html#:~:text=Brain%
20development%20affect%20all%20areas,social%20and%20emotional%2C%20and%20cognitive.

6.Valenzuela, A. Modification of Docosahexaenoic Acid Composition of Milk from Nursing Women Who Received Alpha Linolenic Acid from Chia Oil during Gestation and Nursing. Nutrients. 2015

7.alenzuela, A. The Impact of Maternal Diet during Pregnancy and Lactation on the Fatty Acid Composition of Erythrocytes and Breast Milk of Chilean Women. Nutrients. 2018

8.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8778665/#B99-nutrients-14-00364

9.https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/72/4/267/1859597?login=false

10.Julvez J., Fortuny J., Mendez M., Torrent M., Ribas-Fitó N., Sunyer J. Maternal Use of Folic Acid Supplements during Pregnancy and Four-Year-Old Neurodevelopment in a Population-Based Birth Cohort. Paediatr. Perinat.

11.Wehby G.L., Murray J.C. The Effects of Prenatal Use of Folic Acid and Other Dietary Supplements on
Early Child Development.
Matern. Child Health J. 2008

12.McNulty H., Rollins M., Cassidy T., Caffrey A., Marshall B., Dornan J., McLaughlin M., McNulty B.A., Ward M., Strain J.J., et al. Effect of Continued Folic Acid Supplementation beyond the First Trimester of Pregnancy on Cognitive Performance in the Child: A Follow-up Study from a Randomized Controlled Trial (FASSTT Offspring Trial) BMC Med. 2019

13.https://smarc.vn/the-roles-of-taurine-in-milk-powder-1

14.Wharton B., Morley R., Isaacs E.B., Cole T.J., Lucas A. Low plasma taurine and later neurodevelopment. Arch. Dis. Child.-Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2004

 

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