How to make a brainier baby

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 07:26 07/12/2011

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Feeding babies the right foods is a recipe for increasing their intelligence, according to top scientists from New Zealand and Australia who meet in Auckland this week to discuss the impact of nutrition on developing baby brains.

Iron, iodine, Omega three fatty acids and vitamin D are being examined for their brain powers in pregnancy, infancy and childhood.

Iron deficiency in foetuses can lead to lifelong consequences, according to Massey University associate professor Jane Coad.

It's thought that the average world IQ could be raised 10 points if all infants received enough iron, she said.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the world, with pregnant women, infants and children the most vulnerable.

''Optimising iron intake both pre-conceptually and during pregnancy, and recognising infants at risk, has the potential to optimise brain development,'' she said.

Studies had also shown that vitamin D had an important role to play in the brain development of animals.

Queensland Brain Institute associate professor Darryl Eyles said there was also a link between vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia.

''Adequate sun exposure, without causing sunburn, should be sufficient for most mothers and infants in New Zealand.

''However, given New Zealand's low latitude, if the mother is concerned she should discuss supplementation with her GP, particularly during the winter and spring months."

Meanwhile, taking Omega three supplements while breastfeeding a child born pre-term improved its brain development, said Dr Carmel Collins from the Child Nutrition Research Centre in Australia.

''Generally, supplementation of infant formula for preterm rather than term infants has demonstrated more consistent, positive effects on neuro-behavioural development.''

And iodine was an essential element for normal growth and brain development, Dr Sheila Skeaff, from the University of Otago, said.

''The mandatory fortification of bread with iodised salt should increase the iodine intakes of New Zealand children and adults.

''However, the Ministry of Health recommends pregnant and lactating women take a supplement.''

Evidence to support the need for supplements was conflicting, she said.

Some studies showed iodine supplementation in pregnancy improved aspects of brain function in babies, while a recent study showed some aspects of brain development were worse where the mothers had taken iodine supplements.

She instead recommended daily consumption of iodine-fortified breads, use of iodised salt and regular intake of eggs, dairy and properly-cooked seafood to help increase iodine levels.

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- Fairfax NZ

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