Supporting healthy cognitive development in children begins in the womb. Intake of multiple micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) during pregnancy has been shown to be associated with improved cognitive outcomes in one- and two-year-old children. Studies have shown that certain nutrients can be particularly effective in developing a baby’s cognitive intelligence.
A number of scientific studies have found a positive association between maternal fish consumption (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids) during pregnancy and cognitive development of children.
It has been reported that there is a relationship between DHA, a type of omega 3, and a faster decline in visual attention in infancy and better resistance to distraction in the second year of life. In studies, mind development scales were used when the babies of mothers who took care of omega 3 intake from the 20th week of pregnancy reached the age of 2.5, and showed better performance in other areas of intelligence development such as movement, social, speech and hearing performance, practical reasoning, and language development. Foods rich in omega 3 are salmon, mackerel, cod, oysters, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and soybeans.
In recent years, more studies have been conducted on the relationship between vitamin B12, folic acid, choline metabolism and intelligence development. In children, the relationship between vitamin B12 and cognitive development has been observed in infants of vegetarian/vegan mothers. Abnormal muscle movements and clinical problems in nerve cells were determined in these babies. Although symptoms have improved with B12 supplementation in infants, that situation many have severely delayed cognitive and language development in the long term. B12 is found in high levels in animal sources. Liver, spleen, shellfish (mussels, shrimp, oysters), mackerel, tuna, trout, milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs are good sources of B12.
Experimental studies examining the effects of folate deficiency on infant brain development show that the availability of folate throughout pregnancy is critical for the infant’s brain and intelligence development in various regions of the brain. Studies have reported that better maternal blood folate concentration is associated with better intelligence performance in a wide variety of tests. He found that folate intake affects the baby’s forebrain cells in late pregnancy. Folate deficiency during pregnancy has been associated with poorer cognitive and behavioral outcomes in infants. And folate availability during pregnancy has been shown to be important for the cognitive and behavioral development of infants. A study evaluated the effect of using folic acid supplements in the first trimester of pregnancy on cognitive development at the age of three, and found that prenatal folic acid supplementation had a positive effect on children’s general cognitive and gross motor development. Another study reported that seven-year-old children whose mothers took the recommended amount of folic acid per day during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy had higher intelligence scale scores. Also, when compared to a nationally representative sample of seven-year-olds, children whose mothers took the recommended amount of folate had higher verbal, performance, general language, and full-scale IQ scores. Legumes, green leafy vegetables, red peppers, beets, broccoli, strawberries, apricots, citrus fruits, bananas, kiwis, avocados, liver, kidney, soybeans, chickpeas, walnuts, hazelnuts, sesame are among the most preferred foods containing folic acid.
In animal models, choline alters the development of the brain region (hippocampus) that plays a central role in memory and learning. Therefore, it is thought to be important in the development of intelligence. Choline also plays an important role in hippocampal development has been associated with genes involved in the development of neural pathways and memory processes. Organ meats such as eggs, liver and kidneys, red meat, poultry, fish, mushrooms, soybeans, peas, kidney beans, wheat, almonds and quinoa are rich sources of choline.
Ingestion of folate and choline in very high amounts can also cause negative problems. Therefore, arrangements should be made under the supervision of a physician.
Studies have been conducted in which low zinc intake during pregnancy is associated with low focus, attention level, and low score developmental scales. Therefore, it is important to consume this micronutrient in sufficient and balanced amounts during pregnancy. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, eggs, free-range animal meats, seafood, spinach, mushrooms and chickpeas are rich sources of zinc.
Intelligence performance tests have also been made regarding low iron levels and intelligence development at conception. Significantly poor performance was found in children with low-cord iron levels in terms of language skills and attention at the age of 5 years. In addition, it has been reported that infants with iron deficiency have poorer cognitive and school performance in the long term, and that short-term iron therapy trials in these children do not show any benefit in cognitive development. In short, if iron deficiency occurs at an early age, the damage may be irreversible, so it is important during pregnancy that the mother’s iron stores are full for the baby as well. Red meat, green chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, leafy vegetables, legumes, fresh and dried fruits, molasses are good iron points. Consuming such as milk and dairy products reduces iron absorption with foods , and foods rich in vitamin C increase it.
According to another study, exposure to lead during pregnancy can negative developments in child’s nervous system in the later years.
Malnutrition during pregnancy can also lead to inadequate nutrient intake in later life and creates conditions such as stunting. It shows that early childhood stunting caused poorer cognitive development and academic performance in child’s later life. Therefore, malnutrition of the mother during pregnancy may cause lower intelligence in the older children.
In addition, during the mother’s pregnancy, the intelligence measuring is effective at a distance away from alcohol, smoking and excessive caffeine consumption also.
Another study showed that high fruit consumption during pregnancy resulted in higher intelligence development performances in later life. In particular, lycopene, which has antioxidant values and is high in red fruits, has the strongest assets with the development of intelligence. Lycopene is high in food sources such as tomato, watermelon, pink grapefruit, rosehip. Positive effects are could of obtained for the development of intelligence in the future giving more place to this type of food in the initial process.
- Bolduc, F. V., Lau, A., Rosenfelt, C. S., Langer, S., Wang N., Smithson L. et al. & Child Study Investigators. (2016). Cognitive enhancement in infants associated with increased maternal fruit intake during pregnancy: results from a birth cohort study with validation in an animal model. EBioMedicine, 8, 331-340.
- Annet N., Jianghong Li. Et al. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 97.
- Irvine, N., England-Mason, G., Field, C. J., Dewey, D., & Aghajafari, F. (2022). Prenatal Folate and Choline Levels and Brain and Cognitive Development in Children: A Critical Narrative Review. Nutrients, 14(2), 364.
- Annet N., Jianghong T., Siobhan H, Johannathan F., & Wendy H.O. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 97.