Secret of better brain function discovered - in baby's nappy

WHO KNEW? Researchers in Cork have discovered what might be the ultimate brain food in baby poo. A harmless bacterium discovered in a nappy turns out to improve brain function when taken as a probiotic.

Happily there is no need to begin saving what baby produces. The bacterium can be taken mixed up in yoghurt or as a drink, with no clue to its origins.

It has the same kind of impact in the brain, however, as the fish oils that improve cognitive function in children and help reduce the deficits seen in dementia, said Dr Catherine Stanton, who conducted the research with Dr Rebecca Wall at the alimentary pharmabiotic centre in Cork.

The Science Foundation Ireland-funded centre is a joint enterprise between University College Cork and Teagasc’s food research centre at Moorefield, where Dr Stanton is a principal investigator.

The researchers showed that feeding mice with two forms of bifidobacteria “of human infant intestinal origin” could influence brain fatty acid composition, she said. The bacteria when consumed begin to produce conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which then starts modifying fatty acids in the brain.

Taking the bacteria increased levels of fatty acids ARA and DHA. “Those particular fatty acids are associated with increased learning ability and memory,” Dr Stanton said.

Large-scale human trials had already shown fish oils improved brain development and better learning ability in children but were also of benefit to elderly subjects.

The bifidobacteria won’t necessarily make the mice smarter but it certainly enhanced their brain function, as seen in the research published online this past week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Dr Stanton has studied CLA for nearly a decade. Her group showed that it could have a role in the prevention of obesity. It was also able to reduce the viability of colon cancer cells.

The benefits could readily be brought to market, she believes, but a large human trial lasting several months would be needed. This would show whether the brain changes seen in mice were also detected in the human brain. The bifidobacteria could then be given as a drink or a capsule, she said.

“The important thing is the bacteria must be alive and taken in appropriate quantities.”


Irish Times, 11th April 2012