Nutrition and Brain Growth in Preterm Infants
There are more than 15 million preterm infants born globally every year, yet their longer term cognitive outcomes are often below average. The reasons for lower cognitive attainment are complex but are, in part, due to inadequate nutritional status. Failure to provide recommended intakes of macronutrients appears to be a common and potentially remediable factor in brain outcomes in preterm infants on the NICU.
Brain growth is particularly rapid in the 3rd trimester, and the first few months after birth. This means that infants born preterm are born at a critical stage of brain development, and that failure to provide adequate nutrient intakes is likely to result in permanent harm. Several observational studies and randomised controlled trials show that providing higher macronutrient intake results in better brain outcomes in the short and longer term. In addition, there are strong data to support the concept that mother’s own breast milk and adequate iron intake are also vital in optimizing brain outcomes. Whilst other supplements such as iodine, long chain fatty acids, and specific amino acids (such as glutamine or taurine) might be expected to impact brain outcomes, these have not been demonstrated in controlled trials. Further studies are needed for these and a wide range of other nutrients.