Organic Food and Children’s Brain

July 26, 2021

A new study analysing child neurodevelopment in relation to multiple environmental exposures shows that child organic food intake is associated with higher fluid intelligence and higher working memory scores, and child fast food intake with lower scores.

A new study analysing child neurodevelopment in relation to multiple environmental exposures shows that child organic food intake is associated with better cognitive development, higher fluid intelligence and higher working memory scores, and that child fast food intake, together with house crowding, and environmental tobacco smoke, are all associated with lower scores.

New research entitled, “Early life multiple exposures and child cognitive function: A multi-centric birth cohort study in six European countries” and published in the journal “Environmental Pollution”, used data on 1,298 children aged 6-11 years from six European country-specific birth cohorts: United Kingdom, France, Spain, Greece, Lithuania and Norway. The mean child age was 8 years and varied by cohort, and there were more male children (54.7%) than female children.

“Epidemiological studies”, authors explain, “mostly focus on single environmental exposures. This study aims to systematically assess associations between a wide range of prenatal and childhood environmental exposures and cognition. The study sample included data of 1298 mother-child pairs, children were 6–11 years-old, from six European birth cohorts. We measured 87 exposures during pregnancy and 122 cross-sectionally during childhood, including air pollution, built environment, meteorology, natural spaces, traffic, noise, chemicals and life styles.”

“The measured cognitive domains were fluid intelligence, attention and working memory. We used two statistical approaches to assess associations between exposure and child cognition: the exposome-wide association study considering each exposure independently, and the deletion-substitution-addition algorithm considering all exposures simultaneously to build a final multiexposure model. Based on this multiexposure model, … child organic food intake was associated with higher fluid intelligence scores and higher working memory scores, and child fast food intake, house crowding, and child environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), were all associated with lower scores.”

“This first comprehensive and systematic study of many prenatal and childhood environmental risk factors suggests that unfavourable child nutrition, family crowdedness and child indoor air pollution and ETS exposures adversely and cross-sectionally associate with cognitive function.”

“Human cognitive function is influenced by environmental exposures. A brain during growth and maturation is particularly sensitive to changes in physical, biological, and social environments due to the activation of many biological mechanisms related to neurodevelopment. Most of these processes occur during uterine life and childhood. At these stages, the brain is not yet fully developed at the cellular and neuroanatomical level for efficient detoxification and defence against hazardous environmental chemicals, even when the exposure levels are low and do not necessarily represent a risk to a healthy matured brain.”

“Currently, most of the studies on environmental neuroepidemiology are based on single exposures (e.g., mercury) or exposure families (e.g., metals). … Recently, a new approach is being developed in environmental epidemiology toward the concept of the human exposome, the totality of environmental exposure analogous to the genome. Thus, the exposome analytical approach aims to study a wide range of environmental exposures of an individual and to analyse the role of such environmental factors as multi-factorial risk factors of child neurodevelopment.”

“In relation to childhood exposome analyses“, researches write, “there is little previous research specifically analysing child organic food and fast food intakes and cognitive function. However, fast food intake has been associated with a reduction of child academic development success. Furthermore, some studies reported positive associations between children’s healthy diet composites and executive function scores. Similarly, we found better scores in fluid intelligence and working memory with higher organic food intake and lower fast food intake. Healthy diets (including organic food) are richer than fast food on brain necessary nutrients, such as fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidant substances, and may altogether enhance child cognitive function. … The present findings, with the inclusion of participant samples from several European countries, contribute to assume this as a global health concern.

“A strength of this study”, they conclude, “is its originality to explore a large range of human exposures and select the main cognitive determinants based on data driven approach. Furthermore, our approach of reporting all associations is more transparent than usual studies, which may be affected by selective reporting of results. It also shows the complexity of the human exposome and that the association with child cognitive development is challenging.

Full Study “Early life multiple exposures and child cognitive function: A multi-centric birth cohort study in six European countries”