Key Ingredient in Breast Milk Could Do Wonders for Baby's Brain

TUESDAY, Aug. 1, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- A micronutrient in human breast milk may provide significant benefit to developing newborn brains, according to new research that sheds light on the link between nutrition and brain health.

Scientists looked at this sugar molecule in rodents and in human neurons. They said the micronutrient, called myo-inositol, may lead to improved infant formulas.

“The current research does indicate that for circumstances where breastfeeding is not possible, it may be beneficial to increase the levels of myo-inositol in infant formula,” said study co-author Thomas Biederer.

Myo-inositol may also play a part in the aging brain, according to the research conducted at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston.

“Forming and refining brain connectivity from birth is guided by genetic and environmental forces as well as by human experiences,” Biederer, a senior scientist on the neuroscience and aging team at the HNRCA, said in a Tufts news release. He is also a faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine.

“As a neuroscientist, it’s intriguing to me how profound the effects of micronutrients are on the brain,” Biederer said. “It’s also amazing how complex and rich human breast milk is, and I now think it is conceivable that its composition is dynamically changing to support different stages of infant brain development.”

The researchers compared human milk samples collected from new mothers in Mexico City, Shanghai and Cincinnati. They found that myo-inositol is most prominent in human breast milk during the first months of lactation. This is also a time when neuronal connections known as synapses are forming rapidly in the infant brain.

Myo-inositol increased both the size and number of synaptic connections between neurons in the developing brain in both rodents and humans, the researchers said.

That there were similar levels of myo-inositol across women in very different geographic locations points to its generally important role in human brain development, Biederer said.

In early infancy, the brain may be particularly sensitive to diet because the blood-brain barrier is more permeable, the team suggested.

Among the research questions still to be answered are what the right level of myo-inositol is for optimal brain health at various stages.

“My colleagues at the HNRCA and I are now pursuing research to test how micronutrients like myo-inositol may impact cells and connectivity in the aging brain,” Biederer said. “We hope this work leads to a better understanding of how dietary factors interplay with age-related brain aberrations."

The findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on early brain health.

SOURCE: Tufts University, news release, July 27, 2023

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