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Nestlé translates scientific discovery on early-life brain development in first product of its kind

Child playing

The first years of life are a particularly important period for brain development and learning. Breast milk, the ideal choice for infant nutrition, contains nutrients and bioactive components that are critical for brain development.

Building on years of research assessing the impact of nutrition on brain and cognitive development in early life, Nestlé scientists have identified a nutrient blend of components found in breast milk. The blend comprises specific phospholipids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals that are relevant for the formation of myelin, a lipid-rich sheath that insulates and protects nerve fibres that is crucial for cognitive and behavioural development.

The efficacy of this nutrient blend in increasing myelin has been demonstrated for the first time in healthy, term infants in collaboration with scientists and clinicians at Rhode Island Hospital and Pennington Biomedical Research Center, USA. The breakthrough results show the nutritional impact on brain structure development as early as 3 and 6 months of life, enabled by non-invasive analyses capturing myelin quantity in the brain1.

"In our scientific work we connected different fields of our research expertise, including infant nutrition and cognitive development, before embarking into a first-of-its-kind clinical study. Our R&D teams developed novel approaches, such as measuring specific nutrients in breast milk, or visualizing and quantifying myelin in the developing brain," says Eline Van der Beek, Head of the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences at Nestlé Research. "Thanks to our scientific advances we now have an even better understanding of the unique components of breast milk and the role early nutrition plays in brain development."

Nestlé teams were able to leverage and translate this knowledge and developed NUTRILEARN®CONNECT, a distinct nutrient blend clinically shown to increase myelination over the first months of life. The blend has been launched in Hong Kong under the WYETH S-26® ULTIMA® brand and will be rolled out in other markets in the next few months.

"Breast milk contains important nutrients and bioactives that are relevant for brain development. With this new research we have been able to discover a nutrient blend that can provide infants that cannot be breastfed with an alternative to support myelination", says Ryan Carvalho, Global Head of R&D and Chief Medical Officer at Nestlé Nutrition.

We believe breastmilk is the ideal nutrition for babies. This is why we support and promote the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation of six months exclusive breastfeeding, followed by the introduction of adequate nutritious complementary foods along with sustained breastfeeding up to two years of age and beyond. For infants who cannot be fed on breastmilk as recommended, infant formula is the only suitable breastmilk substitute (BMS) recognized as appropriate by the WHO.

1 Frontiers | A Nutrient Formulation Affects Developmental Myelination in Term Infants: A Randomized Clinical Trial