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By Janice Wood
New research supports the old adage “you are what you eat.”

In a new study, researchers from the University of Granada in Spain report that nutrition before birth and in early life “programs” children for long-term health, well-being, brain development and mental performance.

As part of the five-year NUTRIMENTHE project, researchers followed more than 17,000 mothers and 18,000 children across Europe.

They looked at the effect of B vitamins, folic acid, breast milk versus formula, iron, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids on the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children from before birth to age 9.

The researchers found that folic acid can reduce the likelihood of behavioral problems during early childhood.

Eating oily fish is also very beneficial, not only for the omega-3 fatty acids (which are building blocks for brain cells), but also for the iodine content. Iodine content is important because it has a positive effect on reading ability in children.

Many other factors can affect mental performance in children, including the parents’ educational level, socioeconomic status and age, as well as the genetic background of the mother and child.

This can influence how certain nutrients are processed and transferred during pregnancy and breastfeeding and, in turn, affect mental performance, according to Cristina Campoy, M.D., Ph.D., who led the project.

“It is important to try to have good nutrition during pregnancy and in the early life of the child and to include breastfeeding, if possible, as such good nutrition can have a positive effect on mental performance later in childhood,” Campoy said.

She noted that future studies should include research on genetic variation in mothers and children “so that the optimum advice can be given. This area is relatively new and will be challenging.”

Source: University of Granada, Spain

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