4th November 2011: NUTRIMENTHE hosts succesful symposium at FENS

NUTRIMENTHE hosted a successful symposium at the 11th European Nutrition Conference in Madrid (26th to 29th October 2011). 250 people attended the symposium held on the 28th October titled “Nutrition and Cognitive Function” which included presentations from NUTRIMENTHE researchers Henning Tiemeier and Eva Lattka.

Dr Henning Tiemeier, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam.

Dr Tiemeier presented results from the Generation R study which is examining the role that folate plays in childhood behaviour.  “We know that folic acid is important in the prevention of spinal cord defects” noted Dr Tiemeier “but we wanted to investigate what happens later in childhood, to emotional and behavioural development” Many countries in Europe recommend taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy and during the first three months. Dr Tiemeier demonstrated that low levels of folate in early pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of emotional problems in early childhood, a result of lack of prenatal supplement use, despite existing recommendations.

Thyroid hormones and language development. Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in a child’s brain development. A developing foetus relies on a supply of maternal hormone throughout pregnancy but especially during the first three months. “This has been known since the 1970’s” said Dr Tiemeier who presented work showing that hypothyroxinemia is related to head-size in the foetus such that growth slows toward the end of pregnancy and does not ‘catch-up’ until a child is about two years old.  This difference was not related to behavioural problems in early childhood but, maternal hypothyroxinemia was related to a higher likelihood of expressive language delay at 18 months and 30 months. Expressive language includes the ability to form sentences, use grammar correctly, and retell a story or event.  Dr Tiemeier concluded that “subtle changes in a physiological parameter may have considerable effect on the health of children” However, it is too early to speculate about possible interventions.

Dr Eva Lattka, Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, German Research Centre for Environmental Health

Dr Lattka presented results from the ALSPAC study which has shown that fish eating in pregnancy is related to later childhood IQ in particular verbal intelligence when measured at age 8. In the study, children born to women who reported the highest fish intake, demonstrated better outcomes in tests looking at verbal intelligence, fine motor skills and prosocial behaviour (giving helping and sharing). The ALSPAC team speculated that omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), might be responsible for the effect. DHA is known to be an important structural component of the cell membranes of the brain and indeed it and other fatty acids, accumulate in the brain during development. Fish eating during pregnancy is related to levels of maternal fatty acids, but it has not been shown until now whether fatty acids including DHA, are directly related to outcomes in children. This has been investigated through the Nutrimenthe project which found that there are no associations with the level of maternal DHA and childhood IQ “DHA does not appear to be the missing link” noted Dr Lattka “but it could be another nutrient, or nutrients, in fish that influence IQ or perhaps, IQ is not an optimal measure” The child’s diet is also likely to be important. NUTRIMENTHE is setting up new studies to investigate.

FADS genotypes and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid processing.  Further work presented by Dr Lattka from ALSPAC indicates that polymorphisms in the genes (FADS) that encode the delta-5 and delta-6 destaurase enzymes, involved in synthesis of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, influence how these fatty acids are processed during pregnancy. Some FADS polymorphisms result in a reduced activity of the desaturase enzymes, leading to decreased levels of products. This effect of FADS genotypes is observed in the fatty acid content of blood samples taken from pregnant women and in breast milk. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are supplied to the foetus by placental transfer via the umbilical cord but, the influence of FADS genotypes on umbilical cord fatty acids has not been investigated until now. Dr Lattka showed that omega-6 fatty acid amounts in cord blood are dependent on both maternal and child FADS genotypes. Maternal genotypes are concerned with supplying the omega-6 precursors and the child genotypes with producing omega-6 products. “There is more contribution to omega-6 fatty acids by the foetus than previously expected. DHA levels are dependent on both maternal and child metabolism” Dr Lattka noted and that “DHA supplied by the mother might be very important”

Breastfeeding, FADS genotypes and childhood IQ. Dr Lattka also presented results from ALSPAC showing that different FADS genotypes can influence verbal and performance IQ in children at age 8. Children carrying a particular ‘minor’ variant in FADS genes, that were never breastfed, demonstrated the lowest performance in the IQ test compared to breastfed children, irrespective of genotype. Dr Lattka noted that more studies are required and that “we are a long way from dietary recommendations based on genotypes but gene-nutrient interaction studies might be a way forward”

The 11th European Nutrition Conference took place in Madrid between 26th and 29th October 2011 and attracted over 2000 nutrition experts from countries worldwide under the banner "Diversity versus Globalisation: A Nutritional Challenge for a Changing Europe"

For a brief overview of FADS genes, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from NUTRIMENTHE publications click here.

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