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Welcome to the Lifebrain Monthly E-newsletter August, 2017!


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In this issue we present some current Norwegian studies on the nutrition of premature infants.

Small Premature Infants and Nutrition


Small premature infants might face problems later in life

It is increasingly clear that premature infants with very low birth weight are at risk of developing medical and social problems later in life due to affected brain development.
One of the challenges has been that the small and weak newborn premature infants (birth weight less than 1500 g) get markedly less nutrients than they need to grow normally due to a conservative practice among neonatologists.
Thus, the premature infants often experience reduced function as seen with increased risk of having cerebral palsy, loss of vision or hearing, epilepsy, mental retardation, autism, learning disorders, and reduced working capacity in adult life.

Design of our studies with enhanced supply of nutrients

Our studies in Norway had been launched to examine if enhanced supply of nutrients would affect brain development of premature infants.

In some of the studies we provided extra supply of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), whereas in other studies we also increased the supply of energy, protein, fat, essential fatty acids and certain vitamins.

between an enhanced and a routine nutrient supply was based on magnetic resonance imaging, cognitive tests, and different metabolic parameters like metabolites in urine, bacterial pattern in stool (gut microbiome), and some hormones and contaminants (phthalates = mostly softeners in plastic products). 

Results of our studies

Small premature infants given a mixture of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) had improved cognitive function evaluated by having the 6 months old infants looking at a screen with repetitive images of the same blue ball or new images, at the same time as electrical impulses from the brain were registered by electrodes on the head.

Infants getting extra supply of two of the most important essential fatty acids in the brain (docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid), compared to the conventional supply of nutrients,  had markedly improved processing of the repetitively shown blue ball.

In the two other studies where we gave small premature infants more of most nutrients, also total energy, it was observed that certain connecting areas (white matter) of the brain matured more. Visual perception was also improved as seen on the figure below.
Figure 1  
Topographical plot of electrical activation on certain visual stimuli to the infant at the age of 5 months. The darker the yellow and red colors are, the larger are the responses to the visual stimuli (Blakstad et al. 2015).

Practical conclusions for nutrition of small premature infants

Our studies show that enhanced supply of essential fatty acids, as well as  more energy and many other nutrients are required for improved development and function of the brain.
The dietary regime the Norwegian premature infants received in these studies probably can be applied to most small premature infants globally, with positive effects on brain function throughout life.
There are still many improvements to be done for nutrient supply to premature infants, but it has been shown that there is a significant potential for gain of brain function with optimal nutrient supply.

Sources of the newsletter

Edited by Christian A. Drevon, Lifebrain researcher. Professor emeritus of Medicine (nutrition) of University of Oslo, and consultant in the analytical contract laboratory Vitas Ltd. in Oslo Science Park. Has studied effects of nutrients and physical activity on health, with special focus on molecular nutrition and biomarkers. 
Moster et al. N Engl J Med. 2008;359:262-73;
Henriksen et al. Pediatrics. 2008;121:1137-45;
Strømmen et al. Neonatology. 2015;107:68-75;
Blakstad et al. Neonatology. 2015;108:30-7;



Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2017 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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