Dietary lipid quality affects the developing brain

Monday 9 April 2018, during her public PhD defense, Lidewij Schipper will explain that two aspects of milk lipid quality, i.e. fatty acid composition and the supramolecular lipid structure, can modulate brain development and function when provided during critical phases of brain development in early life.

Beneficial effects human milk

Studies have shown that feeding human milk is positively associated with infant neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to infant formula (IF) feeding. There are many differences between human milk and IF that may contribute to this effect. Although energy content, macro- and even micronutrient composition of human milk and IF may be comparable, many differences in nutritional quality remain, including the quality of dietary lipids.

Lidewij studied two aspects of lipid quality in mice models: the balance of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids (lipid composition) and the supramolecular structure of lipids in human milk (i.e. large, phospholipid coated lipid droplets).

Both these aspects can have long-lasting effects on brain development and brain functioning besides being advantageous for body composition and metabolic health

life-long brain health

The findings may help explain some of the (long term) advantages that are typically observed in human milk fed infants over IF fed infants regarding brain development and function as well as metabolic health risks. Greater knowledge of the mechanisms involved in nutritional modulation of brain development could result in better dietary advice for pregnant and lactating women and could lead to improved design of IF for infants that do not have access to human milk. The fact that the changes in brain composition, structure and function by early life (nutritional) environment set brain function for life makes dietary lipid quality an interesting target for nutritional intervention to support life-long brain health and to possibly prevent later in life disease.

Lidewij’s promotors are prof. dr. G. van Dijk, Professor of Integrative Neurobiology of Energy Balance at the University of Groningen, prof. dr. A.J.W. Scheurink, Professor of Neuroendocrinology at the University of Groningen and prof. dr. E.M. van der Beek, Research Director Early Development, Danone Nutricia Research, The Netherlands.


Date and time: Monday 9 April 2018 at 11:00 hrs.

Location: The Academiegebouw RUG in Groningen.

You can download the thesis here