The physical development of a baby’s brain is altered by the mother’s dietary intake before delivery and during breastfeeding. Carbohydrate and lipid intake are important to brain development, cell membrane and myelin production of nerves in mammals. Early malnutrition, both fetal and postnatal, can impair the brain and vision.
Carbohydrates provide a rapid energy supply and ensure normal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity. The HPA is is dopamine-dependent and important for handling stress, pain, neurotransmitter release and normal cognitive functions. Adequate carbohydrate intake improves HPA activity during stress. Carbohydrate rich diets increase serotonin and dopamine.
Sucrose increases the feeling of pleasure by increasing dopamine in the same areas of the brain as cocaine and heroin would, therefore, a preference for sweetness predicts a tendency toward drug abuse. Sucrose intake is not natural for babies and it blunts their pain responses. Preterm infants given sucrose regularly for 5 weeks have impaired brain development, alertness and orientation.
Fats provide slower, potential energy and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) mediates many of the effects of fats on the brain. Diets rich in saturated fats, commonly lard, cause negative effects on the HPA axis. DHA is derived from linolenic acid and diets rich in linolenic acid (perilla oil and fish oil) have positive central nervous system effects. DHA is highly beneficial to the brain and retina, stabilizes nerve membranes, alters dopamine cortical functions and improves dopamine and serotonin transmission. High dietary fats in infants ensure normal brain development.
CONCLUSION: Carbohydrate and lipid intake are important for development of the mammalian nervous system. The ability of the infant to respond to stress is improved by good diet. High doses of beneficial fats, especially DHA, benefit the infant. Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia impair the stress response.
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