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Effect of Breastfeed on IQ

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition testifies that breastfed infants scaled 5.2 IQ points higher than formula fed infants, was a comprehensive study involving over 7000 children. Infants deprived of breast milk are likely to have lower IQ levels, lower educational achievement, and poorer social adjustment than breast-fed infants.

How does breast feed contribute to improving IQ?

There are several schools of thoughts, adhering to different theories explaining breast feed's role in honing IQ. The nexus between breast-feeding and brain development has been well established in recent years, but the reasons for it remains cloudy.

"Our best estimates are that maternal bonding and the decision to breast-feed account for about 40 percent of that increase, but that 60 percent -- 3.2 points -- are related to the actual nutritional value of the breast milk," says a research group.

Another group ascribes the benefits to chemicals in breast milk that encourage brain development, and that those chemicals are absent in formula. In particular, extensive research is under way into the effects of several Omega-3 fatty acids -docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) - that are prevalent in breast milk but absent in infant formula.

Some others suggest that the link is based on the fact that well-educated, wealthier women breast-feed far more than poor and less educated women. Consequently, breast-fed children will be found to test better for all the reasons that wealthier children from high social classes test better on standardized tests.

Therefore Anderson's group weighed and eliminated 15 factors from their study, such as maternal smoking and education, birth weight, birth order and family income. After all these factors were removed, the researchers still found that breast-fed babies tested 3.1 IQ points higher than formula-fed babies!

Breast milk's secret potion revealed

Breast milk contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) -- long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that appear to support brain development. Formulated milk lack these nutrients.
Apart from, breast milk providing easy digestion, a battery of other benefits include, providing natural antibodies supplement that confer natural passive immunity, helping protect newborns from common childhood ailments, and it is also cheaper compared to infant formula.

Does duration matter?

In a study of 17,046 children, the team found that breastfeeding exclusively during the first year of life was associated with an increase in a child's intelligence by first grade. Long-term, exclusive breastfeeding appears to improve children's cognitive development (thinking, learning and memory).
Researchers at McGill University found that those who breastfed exclusively for the first three months - with many also extending to 12 months - scored an average of 5.9 points higher on IQ tests in childhood. Teachers also rated these children significantly higher academically than control children in both reading and writing.

Canada's McGill University found breastfed babies ended up performing better in IQ tests by the age of six. But the researchers were unsure whether it was related to breast milk itself or the bond from breastfeeding. The study of nearly 14,000 children is the latest in a series of reports to have found such a positive link.
They found that those babies breast-fed for less than a month had an average IQ of 99.4 as adults, close to the 100 average for the population as a whole. Those breast-fed for two to three months had IQs averaging 101.7, while those breast-fed for seven to nine months scored highest with 106. They found breast-feeding beyond nine months had no further benefit for IQ, with the score dropping to 104.

Gene 'links breastfeeding to IQ':

A blend of genetic and environmental factors is touted as the cause of higher IQ.

Gene FADS2 located on chromosome 11 helps break down fatty acids from the diet, which have been linked with brain development. Children with one version of the FADS2 gene scored seven points higher in IQ tests if they were breastfed.

This gene is inherited from both parents and it comes in two versions: C and G. Children inherit either both C version, one each of C and G, or both G version.

The C version of the FADS2 gene is associated with more efficient processing of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in breast milk. This may in turn help brain development and function, though the exact link is foggy.

The researchers found that children with the C version of the gene averaged slightly higher IQ scores when breastfed as babies than those who were not breastfed. This IQ advantage was about 6 to 7 points. Breastfeeding had no effect on children with two of the G version of the gene. In total, 90 per cent of the children studied had either one or two of the C version of the gene, and 10 per cent had two G versions of the gene.


Rosie Dodds, of the National Childbirth Trust, says that research underscores the positive impact of breastfeeding. We now require more evidence to substantiate it. The findings reflect that genes may work via the environment to shape the IQ, helping to close the nature versus nurture debate.

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