A recent study published in British Journal of Nutrition investigated the association between head circumference at birth, 4 years old and 10 years old with cognitive performance at age of 7 in a group of kids whose mothers either received fish oil, folate or placebo supplements during pregnancy.
Head circumference is used as an indicator of brain size, which is correlated with neurodevelopment in infants and children. The process of brain growth continues through childhood and ends in early adulthood. The correlation between head circumference and brain volume, specifically grey matter volume (GMV), is the highest at age 6, and decreases in individuals 12 and older. So far, no study has examined the correlation between head size and distribution of grey matter in healthy children prenatally exposed to different nutrient supplements.
C. Campoy and colleagues from the University of Granada, Spain, monitored head circumference at birth for 74 children and when they were 4 and 10 years old. At age 7, the same kids were tested for cognitive performance according to the Mental Processing Index (MPI). Kids were divided into groups based on prenatal nutritional supplements (fish oil, folate or placebo) exposure.
The study demonstrates that nutrition supplementation had no significant effects on head circumference at any tested age (P> 0·13). As well, there was no effect on the MPI score at 7 years (P> 0·58). Measurements taken at the age of 4 demonstrated the highest correlation between head circumference, brain size (GMV) and cognitive performances at age of 7 (P<0·001). After controlling for age, sex, height and social parameters, these measurements correlated with head circumference at age of 10 (P<0·001). Head circumference at birth was not related to MPI scores (P> 0·42).
Taken together, the study results suggest that head circumference at age of 4 is the best indicator for predicting brain volume and cognitive performances at later childhood. However, the brain undergoes significant growth between birth and the age of 4, which is primarily affected by genetics alongside postnatal factors such as health status and nutrition, rather than nutrient supplements during the fetal life. Limitations of this study include a relatively low number of participants in each group and no control for postnatal factors such as lifestyle and nutrition children were exposed to. Further studies are needed to analyze the impact of prenatal supplements on head circumference, brain development and cognitive abilities.
Written By: Bella Groisman, PhD