Insufficient dietary fiber intake in mothers linked to potential delay in infant brain development: Study
Undernutrition during pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental delays in children, according to a study by researchers in Japan.
Undernutrition during pregnancy is one of the risk factors for diseases in children as they grow older, said researchers, adding that maternal malnutrition remains a global issue for women. A low-fibre diet during pregnancy has been proven in animal experiments to decrease brain nerve function in offspring. Researchers in Japan have now studied if the same effects might be detected in people in the first human cohort study on the relationship between maternal nutritional imbalance and infant brain development.
“Most pregnant women in Japan consume far less dietary fibre than what is the recommended intake,” said Dr Kunio Miyake, a researcher at the University of Yamanashi and first author of the study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, adding, “Our results provided reinforcing evidence that undernutrition during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental delay in children.”
In comparison to the highest-intake group, the children of mothers in the low-intake groups were more likely to show neurodevelopmental delays. The effect of maternal fibre undersupply was noticeable in several domains related to brain function. Affected were communication skills, problem-solving skills, and personal-social skills. The researchers also found delays in the development of large body part movement and coordination, as well as in the coordination of smaller muscles.
The researchers’ results were based on the analysis of more than 76,000 mother-infant pairs from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study. It is an ongoing project aiming to elucidate how the environment affects children’s health.
To collect dietary information about the participants, the scientists used a food frequency questionnaire, which asked respondents about their dietary status during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Developmental delays were assessed in another questionnaire that was sent to parents once their children were three years old. Based on parents’ answers, the researchers showed the correlation between maternal fibre intake and child brain development.
"Nutritional guidance is crucial: The researchers also found that the median dietary fibre intake in Japan is just over 10 grams a day. Only 8.4 per cent of Japanese pregnant women consumed enough fibre. They also pointed out that the recommended fibre intake for pregnant women varies: While in Japan the recommended daily dietary fibre intake is 18 grams each day, it is 28 grams in the US and Canada. “Our results show that nutritional guidance for pregnant mothers is crucial to reduce the risk of future health problems for their children,” said Miyake.
The researchers also pointed to certain limitations of their study. “Human studies cannot assess the effects of dietary fibre alone. Although this study considered the impact of folic acid intake during pregnancy, the possibility of other nutrients having an impact cannot be completely ruled out,” Miyake pointed out, adding, “In addition, dietary fibre intake from supplements could not be investigated.”