The team of scientists discovered a blend of phospholipids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals found in breastmilk relevant for the formation of myelin, a lipid-rich sheath that insulates and protects nerve fibres crucial for cognitive and behavioural development.
They then tested the efficacy of this nutrient blend in increasing myelin in healthy, term infants through their randomised controlled trial which revealed the nutritional impact on brain structure development as early as 3 and 6 months of life.
“In our scientific work we connected different fields of our research expertise, including infant nutrition and cognitive development, before embarking into a first-of-its-kind clinical study. Our R&D teams developed novel approaches, such as measuring specific nutrients in breast milk, or visualizing and quantifying myelin in the developing brain.”, says Eline Van der Beek, head of the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences at Nestlé Research. “Thanks to our scientific advances we now have an even better understanding of the unique components of breast milk and the role early nutrition plays in brain development.”
Nestlé then translated this knowledge and developed a product called Nutrilearn Connect, a distinct nutrient blend clinically shown to increase myelination over the first months of life. The blend has been launched in Hong Kong under the WYETH S-26 ULTIMA brand and will be rolled out in other markets in the next few months.
Myelination is a cornerstone of human neurodevelopment ensuring coordinated communication between brain cells and networks. It has been positively associated with cognitive ability throughout postnatal development (~6.5–16 months) as well as in children and adults, making it an important research target for strategies that support brain, cognitive, and learning development.
Brain development is particularly rapid in the first years of life and requires nurturing care, such as nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, vitamin B12, and folate, have been associated with hypomyelination, altered myelin composition, or decreased myelin synthesis.
Nestlé's researchers, in collaboration with scientists and clinicians at Rhode Island Hospital and Pennington Biomedical Research Center, USA, conducted a two-center, double-blind, randomised controlled investigational trial in neurotypical term-born children to compare the effect of a nutrient blend containing DHA, ARA, iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, and SM (from a uniquely processed whey protein concentrate enriched in alpha-lactalbumin and phospholipids) in the first year of life.
The aforementioned study report provides the six-month results. The follow-up visits are still ongoing while the 12-month intervention period has closed for all enrolled children.
Significant differences in myelin structure, volume, and rate of myelination were observed in favour of the investigational myelin blend at three and six months of life. Effects were demonstrated for whole brain myelin and for cerebellar, parietal, occipital, and temporal regions, known to be functionally involved in sensory, motor, and language skills. No statistically significant differences were found for early behaviour or cognition scores.
Limitations include the smaller sample size than expected, environmental factors such as cognitive stimulation and parenting behaviour, the investigational exploratory nature of the study, and the fact the myelin imaging data were only analysable from one of the two study sites due to acquisition issues with the myelin sequence.
Source: Frontiers in Nutrition
"A Nutrient Formulation Affects Developmental Myelination in Term Infants: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
Authors: Schneider Nora, Bruchhage Muriel M. K., O'Neill Barry V., Hartweg Mickaël, Tanguy Jérôme, Steiner Pascal, Mutungi Gisella, O'Regan Jonathan, Mcsweeney Séamus, D'Sa Viren, and Deoni Sean C. L.