Ensuring that mothers-to-be maintain healthy brain though diet is one of The Mother and Child Foundation’s core aims. We were therefore very interested to read new research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggesting that women’s brains change during pregnancy, and that these changes last for at least two years. Although researchers concede that the reasons for this are not entirely clear, they theorise that the brain changes help women’s transition into motherhood.
“On the basis of our results, we may speculate that the female brain undergoes a further maturation or specialization of the neural network subserving social cognition during pregnancy,” says Elseline Hoekzema, a researcher who led the study at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain. She adds that the changes “may reflect, at least in part, a mechanism of synaptic pruning … where weak synapses are eliminated giving way to more efficient and specialized neural networks.” (News story source: Xinhuanet).
Breast still best
Breastfeeding continues the link between heathy maternal diet and healthy child. It is therefore worrying to hear in Nutraingredients that many mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they would wish, due to “lack of support”. The UK is currently one of the least supportive countries in the world on this issue, and using formula milk is very routine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is highlighting the issue, and its International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes is part of a campaign to regulate the content and use of formula milk.
Hope for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia?
The Independent reports on a previously unknown genetic disease, recently diagnosed in a Canadian patient. It causes an enzyme called PARP1 to go into over-drive, causing the deaths of brain cells. Researchers from Sussex University suggest this process could be taking place in conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, and could lead to new ways of tackling dementia.
Professor Keith Caldecott, research lead, comments: “Discovering this new disease and its cause is a huge step towards developing drug-based therapies for other rare neurodegenerative conditions.”
Meanwhile, reports The Guardian, this year sees the establishment of the UK Dementia Research Institute. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in England and Wales, and pharmaceutical companies have not been able to produce anything to slow its progress. Let’s hope the new institute manages to keep issues of diet and environment on the media radar, as the hope of a ‘cure’ for many future potential victims probably lies in healthy living rather than new drugs.
Fish oil research catches its breath
In addition to its vital role in brain development, fatty acids from fish and sea foods may have a role to play in reducing asthma rates. A new study suggests that mothers who take fish oil supplements reduce the risk of asthma in their children. The article on the NPR website points out, however, that “one study doesn’t prove that it will be generally helpful, and other studies have come to conflicting conclusions.”
“The confusion of the literature is overwhelming,” says research lead Dr Hans Bisgaard of the University of Copenhagen, “but the rationale for effect on inflammatory diseases is good.”
The researchers underline the problem that getting funding for such research is difficult, as it requires many years of study, which is usually of no interest to pharmaceutical backers looking for quick fixes and quick bucks.