Study: Enriched infant formula may improve neurocognitive function in children at age 6

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© dolgachov / Getty Images
© dolgachov / Getty Images

Related tags: Infant formula, omega-3, synbiotics, Cognitive function, brain development

Infant formula enriched with milk fat globule membrane, omega-3 fatty acids and synbiotics improves brain function in healthy children, a new study suggests.

According to the research published in Frontiers in Nutrition​ and led by researchers from the University of Granada in Spain, the supplemented formula “might be associated [with] beneficial long-term effects on neurocognitive development and brain structure in terms of brain volumes and cortical thickness in children aged 6 years.” ​ 

These findings are part of the ongoing COGNIS Study funded by Laboratorios Ordesa, which specializes in child nutrition and supplements. The research compared groups of infants who were fed either standard formula, enriched formula or breast milk during their first 18 months of life. Earlier phases reported potential benefits of enriched formula on brain maturation and function, assessed as visual function and language development at 18 months and 4 years, respectively.

Brain function and structure at age 6

The most recent study phase assessed 108 participants using neurocognitive tests, structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and cheek cell sampling.

Dr. Mark Miller, a former professor of pediatrics and president of Kaiviti Consulting, told Nutra Ingredients-USA: “The fascinating aspect of this study is that an early intervention (the first 18 months) has such a large impact on brain size and mental performance registered out at 6 years, emphasizing the power of early interventions.”

“Taking IQ for example, while the parents in the three study groups had comparable IQs, despite the parents of the breastfed group having a higher social economic status and education, there was a clear jump in IQ in the infants/children treated with the experimental formula.”

While the IQs of children fed experimental formula were approximately 10% higher than those of breastfed children, the study notes that the scores for IQs, vocabulary and attention were within normal range for both groups.

In addition, children fed the experimental formula showed greater cortical volume than the standard formula group, as well as greater thickness in the insular, parietal and temporal areas of the brain than both the other test groups.

“Further correlation analyses suggest that higher volumes and cortical thickness of different parietal and frontal regions are associated with better cognitive development in terms of language (verbal comprehension) and executive function (working memory),”​ the researchers concluded.

What’s next?

The study puts forward that analysis of brain structure could provide “new knowledge about neural structure underlying neurocognitive function and origins and progression of brain and mental disorders”​, as well as contribute to the development of prevention strategies based on new understandings of early nutrition.

“Consequently, further studies should be carried out to clarify the role of breastfeeding and the new infant formulas on later cognitive performance, while always keeping in mind that child cognitive development is influenced by a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, and, probably, by gut microbiota composition and function,” ​the authors stated.

They also noted that findings should not detract from current recommendations that establish breastfeeding as the gold standard for the integral development of both mother and child.

Source: Frontiers in Nutrition
2022, 9, 820224: doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.820224
“Infant Formula Supplemented with Milk Fat Globule Membrane, Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, and Synbiotics is Associated with Neurocognitive Function and Brain Structure of Healthy Children Aged 6 Years: The COGNIS Study”
Authors: Ana Nieto-Ruiz, et al.

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