Food and Behaviour Research

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From superior adaptation and function to brain dysfunction--the neglect of epigenetic factors.

Saugstad, L.F. (2004) Nutr Health 18(1) 3-27. 

Web URL: View this abstract via PubMed here


With optimal pregnancy conditions (natural, enriched diet which includes fish) African (Digo) infants are 3-4 weeks ahead of European/American infants in sensorimotor terms at birth, and during the first year. Infants of semi-aquatic sea-gypsies swim before they walk, and have superior visual acuity compared with us. With adverse pregnancy behaviour (fear of fat, a trend to dieting), neglecting the need for brain fat to secure normal brain development and function, we run a risk of dysfunction--death. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome victims have depressed birth weight, lower levels of marine fat in brainstem than controls, and >80 suffer multiple hypoxic episodes prior to death. Depressed birth weight (more than 10% below mean) is seen in learning and behaviour disorders, and a trend towards weights of less than 3kg is increasing, which supports a rise in antenatal sub optimality. Given marine fat deficiency in pregnancy and infancy, neurons starved for fuel could delay myelination and maturation in the latest developed Frontal Lobes. The phylogenetic oldest Lateral Frontal Lobe System (feed-back mechanism etc.) derived from olfactory bulb-amygdala, which crosses in Anterior Commisure is probably spared, while the Medial Frontal Lobe System derived from Hippocampus-Cingulum and crosses in Corpus Callosum (delayed response task) is most likely affected. The rise in infantile autism (intact vision and hearing) with deficit in delayed response task only, could suggest a deficit in the Medial Frontal Lobe System. The human species is unique; 70% of total energy to the foetus goes to development of the brain, which mainly consists of marine fat. It undergoes pervasive regressive events, before birth, in infancy and at puberty. Minimal retraction of neuronal arborisation is advantageous. Attributable to adverse pregnancy childrearing practice, excessive retraction is likely prenatally and in infancy. Pubertal age affects the fundamental property of nervous tissue, excitability: excessive excitatory drive is seen in early, and a deficiency in late puberty. It is postulated that with adequate marine fat, there is probably no risk of psychopathology at the extremes, whereas a deficiency could lead to paroxysmal (subcortical) dysfunction in early puberty, and breakdown of cortical circuitry and cognitive dysfunctions in late puberty. The post-pubertal psychoses, schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis at the extremes of the pubertal age continuum, with contrasting excitability and biological treatment, are probably the result of continuous dietary deficiency, which has inactivated the expression of genes for myelin development and oligodendrocyte-related genes in their production of myelin. The beneficial effect of marine fat in both disorders, in other CNS disorders as well as in developmental dyslexia (DD) and ADHD among others, supports our usual diet is persistently deficient. We have neglected the similarity of our great brain to other mammals, and our marine heritage. Given the amount of marine fat needed to secure normal brain development and function is not known, nor the present dietary level, it seems unduly conjectural to postulate that a dietary deficiency in marine fat is causing brain dysfunction and death. However, all observations point in the same direction: our diet focusing on protein mainly, is deficient, the deficiency is most pronounced in maternal nutrition and in infancy.