The majority of human brain’s structure is shaped in the first 3 years of life. In details, when a child is born, his/her brain size and architecture is only 25% of the adult size. At age 1 is about 70%, and at age 3 is around 85%.
The first 1000 days are, thus, quite important for children’s brain’s development.
This process is very complex and is mediated by both genetic and environmental factors.
The most important changes happening in the first 3 years of life are the following:
- increase of cortical thickness,
- myelination of white-matter tracts,
- 3-fold increase of oligodendrocytes and astrocytes,
- emerging of functional networks.
Three are the most important factors that influence the brain’s development:
- reduction of toxic stress,
- presence of social support,
- provision of ideal nutrition.
The first two variables are more or less easy to achieve: parents, family and friends can and should create a good, calm and supporting environment to allow the child to develop and explore the world.
Regarding the third factor, it is interesting to have a deeper look into macro- and micro-nutrients and their role in the brain’s development.
Proteins play a fundamental role in the development both of neurons (myelination and synaptogenesis) and neurotransmitters. Carbohydrates and glucose are essential for the development of neurons and the electrical efficiency of neuron oligodendrocytes. LC-PUFA (or long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) are essential for the ideal development of neurons. Among them, arachidonic acid in particular, has been associated with improved cognition and attention. The most important micro-nutrients involved in the development of the brain are iron, iodine, zinc, choline, copper, vitamin B6, B12, C and D.
While, we don’t have any power on the genetic component of brain’s development, we can improve and “control” the environmental one. Creating an ideal environment and paying attention to nutrition can promote the ideal brain’s development of our children, especially during their first 1000 days of life.
Cusick and Georgieff, “The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days””, (2016), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.05.013
Gilmore et al., “Imaging structural and functional brain development in early childhood”, (2018), https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2018.1
Kjaer et al., “Neocortical Development in Brain of Young Children—A Stereological Study”, (2017), https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhw314
Child brain development figure: https://bit.ly/2Tkjv84