Nutrition and Brain Development The first years of life are a period of
remarkable brain growth and development. A baby’s brain triples in size by its
first birthday reaching 90 percent of its adult weight by the age of eight. The young brain must produce large
quantities of myelin, the material that insulates neurons and allows them to communicate quickly and efficiently. Neurons communicate at connection points called synapses which are essential for perception,
learning and memory. During peak growth periods the young
brain produces up to two million synapses per second. A child’s diet must supply energy and
materials to support this incredible growth. Key nutrients provide the building
blocks for lifelong intellectual, emotional and social development Breast milk is the gold standard for
infant nutrition and it is impossible to replicate its exact composition. However, nutrients found in breast milk known to promote brain and eye development can be added to infant formula to
support the baby’s developing intellect. These nutrients include phospholipids, fatty acids, taurine, choline, zinc, lutein and iron. Phospholipids and Fatty Acids.
Phospholipid are a type of fat found in the membranes of all cells and in myelin. The unique polar structure of
phospholipids makes them essential for membrane fluidity and cell signaling. Fats make up 60 percent of the brain
and nerves and 75 percent of myelin. During the first year of life the fat
content in an infant’s brain more than triples. Two-thirds have this fat consists of
phospholipids. Together with essential fatty acids,
phospholipids are the primary constituents of cell membranes Two particular fatty acids, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Arachidonic Acid (AA) play a strong role in cognitive and
visual development. DHA and AA are highly concentrated in neural membranes where their flexible structures enhance the cell’s signaling functions. Outside the cell membrane, DHA and AA promote the growth of axons and dendrites and the formation of synapses. DHA is also prevalent in the outer
segments of photoreceptors in the retina DHA’s flexibility facilitates the movement of pigments in these light detecting cells. Taurine and Zinc Taurine is a physiologically
indispensable amino acid present in high concentrations in the
developing brain and retina taurine in infants is considered a
conditionally essential nutrient in the eyes taurine contributes to
retinal development particularly in the cell membranes and
outer segment of cone receptors it may also be needed for normal
auditory response. The mineral zinc is a critical component of several enzymes involved in myelination and neurotransmitter production. Zinc
helps regulate the release and uptake of neurotransmitters as well. Taurine and zinc both help to regulate
membrane permeability protecting brain cells against excessive
swelling and shrinking from osmotic changes. Eye Health Taurine, DHA, zinc and the antioxidant lutein are important for eye health and are all highly concentrated in the retina. DHA gives retinal cell membranes the
fluidity they need to function well but also makes them vulnerable to damage
from light and free radicals. Lutein is the main carotenoid found
in the retina. It is highly concentrated in the macula, a distinct yellow spot in the central
portion of the retina. Scientists believe that the macular
pigment acts as an antioxidant to protect retinal membranes against
light induced damage. Choline Choline is an important nutrient that is
required to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine an important messenger in the brain.
Choline is also needed to synthesize certain phospholipids. Iron Iron is a mineral that is necessary for basic neuronal processes such
as myelination and neurotransmitter production. It is
also necessary for transporting oxygen in red blood cells. In summary, a variety of nutrients work individually and in concert to support the developing brain and senses. When added to infant formula, these
compounds can help promote optimal brain growth and lifelong mental development.

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