Undernutrition during pregnancy is a critical factor associated with heightened disease risks in children as they advance in age. Despite this knowledge, maternal malnutrition continues to be a prevailing issue affecting women globally.
Research conducted on animals has demonstrated that a diet lacking in fiber during pregnancy can adversely impact the brain nerve function of the offspring. To ascertain whether similar effects can be observed in humans, Japanese researchers have undertaken the first-ever human cohort study to explore the connection between maternal nutritional imbalances and infants' brain development.
According to Dr. Kunio Miyake, a researcher at the University of Yamanashi and the primary author of the study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, a significant number of pregnant women in Japan consume dietary fiber well below the recommended intake. The study's findings offer compelling evidence that undernutrition during pregnancy is linked to a higher risk of neurodevelopmental delays in children.
Fiber for brain development
Miyake et al. conducted a comparative study, analyzing the development of children born to mothers with varying levels of dietary fiber intake during pregnancy. The researchers grouped mothers based on their fiber intake, with one group having the highest intake and subsequent groups consuming progressively less fiber.
The study revealed that compared to the children of mothers in the highest-intake group, those born to mothers in the low-intake groups were more likely to exhibit neurodevelopmental delays. The impact of maternal fiber insufficiency was evident in several areas related to brain function, including communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and personal-social skills. Additionally, delays were observed in the development of gross motor skills and coordination of larger body parts, as well as in the coordination of finer motor skills.
The researchers obtained their findings by analyzing data from over 76,000 mother-infant pairs participating in the Japan Environment and Children's Study—an ongoing project focused on understanding the impact of the environment on children's health.
To gather dietary information, the scientists employed a food frequency questionnaire, which inquired about the participants' dietary habits during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Subsequently, developmental delays were assessed using another questionnaire distributed to parents when their children reached three years of age. By analyzing the responses provided by parents, the researchers established a correlation between maternal fiber intake and child brain development.
Nutritional guidance is crucial
The researchers made an additional noteworthy discovery - the median dietary fiber intake in Japan hovers slightly above 10 grams per day. Only a mere 8.4% of Japanese pregnant women managed to meet the recommended fiber intake. Interestingly, the recommended daily dietary fiber intake differs across regions; while Japan recommends 18 grams per day for pregnant women, the US and Canada suggest a higher intake of 28 grams.
Dr. Miyake emphasized the importance of nutritional guidance for expectant mothers to mitigate the risk of future health issues for their children based on their findings.
However, the researchers also acknowledged certain limitations in their study. They mentioned that human studies cannot exclusively assess the effects of dietary fiber alone. Despite considering the impact of folic acid intake during pregnancy, they couldn't entirely dismiss the possibility of other nutrients playing a role. Additionally, the study couldn't investigate the dietary fiber intake from supplements. (DPK/NW)