Eating fruit prenatally boosts babies' cognition
University of Alberta, Canada, study discovers a previously unknown benefit to pregnant moms and their babies — increasing the amount of fruit in moms' diet increases baby's cognitive abilities.
Most people have heard the adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." This old truth encompasses more than just apples. Eating fruit in general is well known to reduce risk for a wide variety of health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. But a new study is showing the benefits of fruit begin earlier — in the womb.
The study is published in the journal EbioMedicine.
In the study, mothers who consumed more fruit during pregnancy gave birth to children who performed better on developmental tests at one year of age.
Piush Mandhane, senior author of the paper and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, made the discovery using data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) — a nationwide cohort birth study following more than 3,500 Canadian infants and their families. Mandhane leads the Edmonton part of the study.
"We wanted to know if we could identify what factors affect cognitive development. We found one of the biggest predictors of cognitive development was how much fruit moms ate in pregnancy. The more fruit mom ate, the higher her child's cognitive development."
Piush Mandhane PhD, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta, and senior author of the paper.
The study examined data from 688 Edmonton, Alberta children, and controlled for factors that would normally affect a child's learning and development such as family income, paternal and maternal education, and gestational age (how far along in the pregnancy) of the child.
Using a traditional IQ scale as a model, the average IQ is 100 and the standard deviation is 15. Two thirds of the general population will fall between 85 and 115.
Mandhane's study showed that if pregnant mothers ate six or seven servings of fruit or fruit juice a day, on average their infants placed six or seven points higher on the scale of cognitive ability — at one year of age.
"It's quite a substantial difference — that's half of a standard deviation. We know that the longer a child is in the womb, the further they develop — and having one more serving of fruit per day in a mother's diet provides her baby with the same benefit as being born a whole week later."
Piush Mandhane PhD
To further build on the research, Mandhane teamed with Francois Bolduc, an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry's Division of Pediatric Neurology, who researches the genetic basis of cognition in humans and fruit flies. Both researchers believe that combining pre-clinical models and epidemiological analysis [epidemiology is the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in specific populations] is a novel approach which may provide useful new insights into future medical research.
Says Francois Bolduc: "Flies are very different from humans but — surprisingly — they have 85 per cent of the genes involved in human brain function, making them a great model to study the genetics of memory. To be able to improve memory in individuals without genetic mutation is exceptional, so we were extremely interested in understanding the correlation seen between increased prenatal fruit intake and higher cognition."
According to Bolduc, fruit flies have a long track record in the field of learning and memory. Several genes, found by Bolduc and others, are known to function in fly memory and are also involved in human intellectual development. In a series of experiments, Bolduc shows that flies fed increased amounts of fruit juice prenatally, had significantly improved memory similar to results shown by Mandhane with one-year-old human infants. Bolduc believes this suggests brain function and fruit have been maintained throughout evolution and conserved across species.
Image Credit: Teacher Webspace, Halifax Regional School Board
While the findings are encouraging, Mandhane cautions against going overboard on fruit. Potential complications such as gestational diabetes and high birthweight — conditions associated with increased intake of natural sugars — have not been fully researched.
Instead, he suggests expectant mothers meet the daily intake recommended in Canada's Food Guide and consult their doctors.
Mandhane adds he will continue working in this field to examine if the benefits of prenatal fruit consumption persist in children over time. He is also curious to see if fruit can influence childhood executive functions — areas such as planning, organizing and working memory.
In-utero nutrition is an under-studied aspect of cognitive development. Fruit has been an important dietary constituent for early hominins and humans. Among 808 eligible CHILD-Edmonton sub-cohort subjects, 688 (85%) had 1-year cognitive outcome data. We found that each maternal daily serving of fruit (sum of fruit plus 100% fruit juice) consumed during pregnancy was associated with a 2.38 point increase in 1-year cognitive development (95% CI 0.39, 4.37; p < 0.05). Consistent with this, we found 30% higher learning Performance index (PI) scores in Drosophila offspring from parents who consumed 30% fruit juice supplementation prenatally (PI: 85.7; SE 1.8; p < 0.05) compared to the offspring of standard diet parents (PI: 65.0 SE 3.4). Using the Drosophila model, we also show that the cyclic adenylate monophosphate (cAMP) pathway may be a major regulator of this effect, as prenatal fruit associated cognitive enhancement was blocked in Drosophila rutabaga mutants with reduced Ca2+-Calmodulin-dependent adenylyl cyclase. Moreover, gestation is a critical time for this effect as postnatal fruit intake did not enhance cognitive performance in either humans or Drosophila. Our study supports increased fruit consumption during pregnancy with significant increases in infant cognitive performance. Validation in Drosophila helps control for potential participant bias or unmeasured confounders.
Authors Contributing to the work:
Francois V. Bolduc, Amanda Lau, Cory S. Rosenfelt, Steven Langer, Nan Wang, Lisa Smithson, Diana Lefebvre, R. Todd Alexander, Clayton T. Dickson, Liang Li, Allan B. Becker, Padmaja Subbarao, Stuart E. Turvey, Jacqueline Pei, Malcolm R. Sears, Piush J. Mandhane
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May 26, 2016 Fetal Timeline Maternal Timeline News News Archive
Andrea Ballas and her son Matthew are participants in the University of Alberta study.
Image Credit: Ross Neitz