Early childhood nutrition: Researchers say polar lipids, amino acids, psychobiotics are of “critical importance”

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Polar lipids, specific amino acids, and psychobiotics are of “critical importance” for normal neurodevelopment in young children, a review has suggested. ©Getty Images
Polar lipids, specific amino acids, and psychobiotics are of “critical importance” for normal neurodevelopment in young children, a review has suggested. ©Getty Images

Related tags Children Nutrition

Polar lipids, specific amino acids, and psychobiotics are of “critical importance” for normal neurodevelopment in young children, aside from the traditionally recognised vitamins and minerals, multinational research has suggested.

This is according to researchers from the industry and academia, including Friesland Campina, Peking University, Universitas Indonesia, and University of Surrey.

The researchers conducted a review of existing studies which looked at the benefits of different types of macro and micronutrients.

In their findings published in Nutrients, ​they said that polar lipids and essential amino acids were especially important for normal neurodevelopment when a child was malnourished.

On the other hand, psychobiotics are relevant by targeting the gut-brain axis, they said in their findings published in Nutrients.

“Based on the review, presented here, it is highly unlikely that any one nutrient alone represents a magic bullet in supporting and positively influencing neurodevelopment. 

“Polar lipids and essential amino acids such as tyrosine and tryptophan, are emerging as promising emerging nutritional vectors for support of normal neurodevelopment. The latter can be especially important under conditions of protein/energy malnutrition,”​ the researchers

Polar lipids

The milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) was highlighted as a polar lipid that could affect cognitive development in infants and young children.

The MFGM can be found in bovine and human breast milk.

Majority of the polar lipids found in MFGM are phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylinositol (PI), phosphatidylserine (PS), and sphingomyelin (SM).

The latter two exist in higher levels in human breast milk.

Citing a 2012 study​ conducted in Belgian, the researchers said a phospholipid-rich MFGM concentrate given daily to children aged 2.5 to 6 for four months had decreased behavioural problems and reduced days with fever.

Another RCT on 451 infants​ showed that those who received formula with added bovine MFGM and lactoferrin displayed accelerated neurodevelopment by the time they turn one year old.

These toddlers had a higher cognitive, language, attention, and global development scores.

However, at present, it is unclear 1) which MFGM fractions are the most suitable for children’s supplementation, 2) the optimal age and concentration in which the supplementation should be given. 

Amino acids

The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine were highlighted as important factors in neurodevelopment.

Citing a year 2007 study​ involving 1,055 infants and children aged 0 and six in Japan, the researchers pointed out that there was a correlation between tryptophan intake and circadian rhythm, which in turn affects sleep quality and mood. 

Tryptophan can be found in milk, tuna. It plays a role by being synthesised to 5-hydroxytryptamine and further converted to melatonin at night.

On the other hand, while tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid, the researchers said some evidence has shown that a drop in the brain tyrosine levels could affect brain functions.

Citing a year 2000 study on healthy women in Canada, they said that tyrosine depletion impairment in spatial recognition memory and performance.

Another 2013 study​ conducted on children aged two to five showed that the intake of more than 800mg of the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine at breakfast showed lower frequency of anger.


Using psychobiotics supplements to target the gut-brain axis is one of the novel methods in influencing neurodevelopment, said the researchers.

Infants with reduced gut microbiota diversity exhibited higher negative and fearful reactions, a 2019 study​ conducted in Finland showed.

According to the study, those with gut microbiota consisting of Bifidobacterium ​and Enterobacteriaceae ​scored highest in gut microbiota regulation.

On the other hand, a higher composition of Bifidobacterium ​and streptococcus ​were associated with positive emotions.

In terms of learning ability, children with high levels of Bacteroides ​exhibited the highest level of performance, based on the Mullen Scales of Learning – an assessment used in clinical psychology to measure cognitive development.

In contrast, high levels of Faecalibacterium ​were associated with lower performance levels.

When it comes to clinical trials, a 13-year long study​ suggested that the supplementation of Lactobacillus rhamnosus ​GG from six months onwards could reduce the incidence of ADHD. 

By age 13, 17.1% of the children in the placebo group were diagnosed with ADHD or Asperger syndrome, while none was diagnosed in the probiotic group, a significant finding with p-value of 0.008.

“In conclusion, we propose that in addition to the more traditionally recognized nutrients discussed in this review, emerging nutrients such as polar lipids, high quality protein/specific amino acids, and psychobiotics, are of critical importance for normal neurodevelopment in young children,” ​the researchers said.

Nonetheless, they added that both observational and interventional trials are required to validate the efficacy of these nutrients.


Source: Nutrients

Nutritional Support of Neurodevelopment and Cognitive Function in Infants and Young Children—An Update and Novel Insights


Authors: Jan M. W. Geurts and et al 

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