From micronutrients to national health initiatives, we were pleased to see lots of stories concentrating on mothers and mothers-to-be appearing over the last few days.
Results from a trial in Indonesia suggest that pregnant women should take more micronutrients – not just the standard iron and folic acid that most mothers-to-be are told to take. The additional supplementation appears to boost their offspring’s long-term cognitive development.
In the original trial, half the group were given iron and folic acid until three months postpartum, and the other half were supplied with additional multiple micronutrients (MMN) such as iodine, zinc and vitamin B6. More than ten years on, researchers have returned to the children born to the two groups in the original trial.
As reported in Nutraingredients, the researchers say: “We report significant effects of maternal MMN on procedural memory, on general intellectual ability in children of anaemic women, and positive shifts overall on cognitive, fine motor, and socio-emotional ability.”
The researchers also noted that socio-environmental factors make a huge impact, and that MMNs alone are not the answer. “Programmes addressing socio-environmental determinants are also essential to achieve thriving populations,” the study concluded.
Breast Milk and its Symbiotic Microbes
One thing everyone concurs on is that breastfeeding is the ideal start in life. This is hardly surprising given that we evolved for millions of years with nothing but mother’s milk to sustain us in infancy. It now appears that this long evolution has allowed a beneficial symbiosis between our health and the microbes in our guts.
Researchers based in Japan and Australia have been looking at how bifidobacteria microbes have adapted to the infant gut by producing an enzyme called LnbX. This enables the microbes to grow on a sugar that is abundant only in human milk. In return the bifidobacteria bring significant health benefits to the digestive and immune systems.
In a study, the microbes – more appetisingly known as probiotics – were far more abundant in children fed on breastmilk, compared to those fed on formula. Hopefully the research will help improve formula milk through fortification.
The LifeCycle Project
An international project was launched in April 2017 to shed further light on how diet and health in pregnancy and childhood influence the development of disease in adulthood. As issues of a healthy pregnancy and motherhood affect the entire human population of the future, it is encouraging to see global efforts in this direction.
Called The LifeCycle Project, this world-spanning effort brings together researchers from the UK, Europe, and Australia. They have formed a sprawling group called the EU CHILD Cohort Network. The project will combine data on over 250,000 children and their parents from Europe and Australia to provide robust scientific evidence on the links between ante- and post-natal health and illness in later life.
The intention is to translate the findings into new prevention and intervention policies focusing on parents-to-be and young children. Mental health problems are high on the list of illnesses the group will look at. The Mother and Child Foundation hopes the links between omega-3 fatty acids and childhood cognitive health will be duly noted.
Health Initiatives in Asia – and their Sponsors
Taking a leaf from the Lifecycle Project book, on March 22 Vietnam’s Ministry of Health launched the country’s first National Guideline on Nutrition for Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers. Similarly, in Hong Kong a nutrition programme for pregnant women has been launched, via a website “endorsed by professional dieticians”.
Of course, such initiatives rely on sponsorship, and in the case of Vietnam the knight in shining armour – officially offering “technical and financial support” – is global healthcare company Abbott. In Hong Kong the initiative is being run by ‘healthy drink’ manufacturer Fonterra.
It’s vital in these situations to keep a clear line between the science and the marketing. Abbott produces products aimed at mothers, such as protein-packed Similac Mom food supplement. Huge corporate bodies like Abbott and Fonterra are never going to distance their advice from their products.
This isn’t a condemnation of anything Abbott or Fonterra produce, but it does underline the inherent dilemma of a world in which science is sponsored by people with something to gain from the ‘right’ kind of findings. But we can’t have everything, and without the sponsorship Vietnam and Hong Kong would not be launching these initiatives.
For the time being we’re staying neutral and positive. There’s a long debate to be had here. Please feel free to add your own view and comments on the subject!