Infant neurodevelopment: Higher intake of sn-2 palmitate could improve fine motor skills and increase gut Bifidobacteria – China study
sn-2 palmitate has been studied in other infant formula trials for its ability to improve calcium absorption, bone health, gut Bifidobacteria abundance, and infant GI comfort, however its effects on neurodevelopment received little attention.
Conducted by researchers at Peking University and Tsinghua University, “to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that found out infants fed a formula with high sn-2 palmitate for 16 weeks had higher scores and a lower risk of scoring close to the typical development threshold for fine motor skills than the control formula,” they wrote in the journal Nutrients.
“Our findings also suggested that the favourable effect of high sn-2 palmitate on infant neurodevelopment was associated with the increased gut Bifidobacteria relative abundance.”
The study enrolled 199 healthy infants (7-14 days) in this randomised, controlled, parallel group clinical trial.
66 infants were exclusively breast-fed. The other 133 infants were randomly assigned into two groups to be fed either a formula containing high sn-2 palmitate (n = 66) or low sn-2 palmitate (n = 67).
The composition of the two cow milk-based formulas was comparable, except 46.3% of the PA was esterified to the sn-2 position in the high sn-2 palmitate infant formula group..
Infant formula was supplied by the Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group.
The content of the sn-2 PA level in the high sn-2 palmitate IF was increased by adding refined vegetable fat, Betapol B-55 DMX (1,3-Dioleoyl-2-Palmitoy-TAG), produced by Bunge Loders Croklaan Oils.
The infants’ neurodevelopmental outcomes were measured using the third edition of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), at week 16 and 24.
Stool samples (1g) were collected for the analysis of Bifidobacteria at baseline, week 16 and 24.
Data on digestive tolerance was also collected during the study, to assess any adverse symptoms to the infant formulas.
In the higher sn-2 palmitate group, infants showed significantly higher ASQ-3 scores for fine motor skills at week 16, compared to the low sn-2 group (p=0.021).
Fine motor skills may serve as an indicator for cognitive skills, such as visual information processing.
There was no significant difference from the breast-fed group.
Researchers did not observe a difference in the performance of fine motor skills at week 24.
They suggest that, “after being informed of the assessment result of the ASQ-3 at the week 16 visit, some caregivers might have conducted targeted training…this might, to some extent, attenuate the difference in the fine motor skills development between the two groups at the 24-week visit.”
At week 16 and 24, infants fed the low sn-2 formula had significantly lower Bifidobacteria relative abundance compared to those fed the high sn-2 palmitate formula or those who were breast-fed.
The higher sn-2 group recorded (week 16: 15.7%, week 24: 15.6%) significantly higher relative abundance of fecal Bifidobacteria than the lower sn-2 group group (week 16: 6.6%, p = 0.001 and week 24: 11.2%, p = 0.028).
Previous studies have suggested that higher abundance of Bifidobacteria at birth confers favourable effects in early development, and central nervous system (CNS) functions in later life.
There were no significant differences in GI symptoms related to digestive tolerance (e.g. diarrhoea, bowel cramps) observed among both sn-2 groups, and the breast-fed group at week 16.
This study did not collect and analyse human milk samples from the breast-fed group, which researchers recognised as a limitation.
“The study design could also limit the generalisability of our results to some extent, as the association of high sn-2 palmitate in a formula with infant neurodevelopment was captured at week 16 after birth and in a population of which the majority had typical neurodevelopment. The long-term significance of this association warrants further confirmation in prospective studies of large populations,” they recommended.
“Neurodevelopmental Outcomes and Gut Bifidobacteria in Term Infants Fed an Infant Formula Containing High sn-2 Palmitate: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial”
Authors: Wei Wu, et al.