Because first years are critical to a child’s physical and neurological development, promoting good dietary habits early in life can have lasting health benefits. However, a new study shows our nation’s kids may not be getting enough of the nutrients they need—in particular the beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that play an important role in promoting eye, brain and bone health.*
Scientists at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital recently completed a groundbreaking study of nearly 2,500 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years. Results of the study, published online in September, revealed the overall intake among U.S. children of key fatty acids such as DHA and EPA was significantly lower than the amounts consumed by children in many other countries.
According to Sarah Keim, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake was high—about 10. Some experts use this as an indicator of diet quality, with a high ratio being less healthy. In addition, intake of a key fatty acid known as DHA in children 12 to 60 months of age was low—lower than what infants generally consume—and it did not increase with age.”
The study also revealed that most American children are not consuming two 3-ounce servings of fish per week, which the Institute of Medicine considers a “reasonable intake.” While currently there are no official dietary recommendations for DHA and EPA intake or supplementation in children, researchers hope studies like this one will encourage health professionals to more closely examine the dietary needs of young children and possibly consider putting into place specific recommendations.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the fastest growing pediatric research centers in the United States and is ranked in the top 10 for National Institutes of Health funding among free-standing children’s hospitals. The Research Institute engages in high-quality, cutting-edge research according to the highest scientific and ethical standards. The goal is simple: improved health for all children and their families.
The next time someone tells you to “listen to your gut” it may be wise follow their advice. Thanks to a number of recent studies, scientists have uncovered a fascinating connection between what goes on in the brain and the vast numbers of microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract. One new study in particular caught the attention of National Public Radio.
University of California Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry Dr. Emeran Mayer spoke with NPR about the work he’s been doing to learn more about the gut-brain connection. He has a theory that gut bacteria help mold brain structure as we age, and thousands of volunteers have agreed to let Mayer perform MRI scans so he can compare brain structure with their internal microbes.
Basically, we all begin life with a unique mix of microbes all our own—receiving them first as we pass through the birth canal, and then from breast milk and other microbes we encounter in our first years. Those microbial fingerprints, believes Mayer after his initial findings, may cause distinctive changes in brain structure and behavior, thus affecting how we think, feel and behave.
Scientists at McMaster University in Ontario have seen similar results in mice, noting that changes in brain chemistry and behavior occur when gut bacteria is altered. For example, when scientists replaced the gut microbes of timid or anxious mice with those of less fearful mice, the timid ones became bolder. Likewise, aggressive mice became calmer when their internal bacteria were modified.
Research shows the gut-brain connection involves the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem to the abdomen and is believed to be how our gut microbes “talk” to the brain. Ever get a belly ache when you were feeling anxious or stressed? You can thank your vagus nerve. And here’s something interesting: when a group of researchers in Ireland cut the vagus nerve in test mice, there was evidence the brain no longer responded to changes in the gut.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, but experts like Dr. Mayer and others conducting similar research are excited by the possibility that we may be able to positively impact mood and behavior simply by altering our internal bacterial balance. And from there, who knows what other benefits science may one day attribute to our intestinal bacteria?