Eating cheese during pregnancy linked to better neurodevelopmental outcomes in children

In a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE, a group of researchers investigated the relationship between maternal intake of fermented foods during pregnancy and offspring development at the age of 3 years.

Study: Relationship between maternal consumption of fermented foods and the development of the offspring at the age of 3 years: The Japan Environment and Children’s Study. Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey / ShutterstockStudy: Relationship between maternal consumption of fermented foods and the development of the offspring at the age of 3 years: The Japan Environment and Children’s Study. Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey / Shutterstock

Background 

Fermented food intake regulates intestinal microbiota and helps prevent diseases like diabetes, allergies, depression, obesity, and constipation. Studies indicate a link between autism, depressive symptoms, gut-brain interaction, and fermented food intake. While diet alters intestinal microbiota, fetal microbiota development begins in utero and is inherited from the mother. This implies maternal fermented food intake might influence fetal development by enhancing the intestinal environment. Fermented foods also provide nutrients that are beneficial for child development. Further research is needed to comprehensively evaluate the factors influencing the association between maternal diet and offspring development.

About the study 

The Japan Environment and Children's Study (JECS) is a nationwide birth cohort study examining the environmental impacts on child health and development. This study utilized data from the JECS, collecting information from 103,060 pregnancies. After excluding cases of multiple enrollment, multiple pregnancies, miscarriage or stillbirth, and incomplete data, 60,910 mother-infant pairs were analyzed.

Maternal dietary intake of fermented foods (miso, natto, yogurt, and cheese) during pregnancy was assessed using a self-administered Food Frequency Questionnaire. Written informed consent was obtained from all participants. The primary outcome, the neurodevelopmental status of the offspring at 3 years of age, was measured using the Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ-3). This tool evaluates development in five domains: communication, problem-solving, gross motor, fine motor, and social skills.

Participants' responses were scored, with adjustments made for partially completed questionnaires. Data were analyzed using multivariate logistic regression to estimate the risk of neurodevelopmental delay based on maternal intake of fermented foods, divided into quartiles. Confounders such as maternal age, body mass index, parity, smoking status, passive smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, folic acid intake, energy intake, marital status, education level, partner's education level, employment status, household income, and antibiotic use were considered. Potential mediators were excluded as covariates.

Study results 

The intake levels of four fermented foods consumed during pregnancy were categorized into quartiles: miso (0–24 g, 25–74 g, 75–145 g, and 147–2,063 g), natto (0–1.7 g, 3.3–5.4 g, 10.7–12.5 g, and 16.1–600.0 g), yogurt (0–8 g, 12–26 g, 30–90 g, and 94–1,440 g), and cheese (0–0.7 g, 1.3–2.0 g, 2.1–4.3 g, and 5.0–240.0 g). 

Mothers who consumed higher amounts of yogurt during pregnancy generally had a higher level of education, higher annual income, and a higher percentage of nulliparas. Additionally, their partners tended to have a higher level of education, and there was a lower percentage of smokers or passive smokers among them. Across all four fermented foods, higher intake groups exhibited greater energy and folic acid intake compared to the lowest intake group.

The multivariable logistic regression analysis demonstrated that cheese intake during pregnancy significantly reduced the risk of neurodevelopmental delay in offspring across all five domains at 3 years of age.

Mothers in the highest quartile of cheese intake had offspring with notably lower risks of delays in communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and social skills compared to those in the lowest quartile. Similarly, higher yogurt intakes were associated with reduced risks of developmental delays, especially in communication skills, among mothers in the top quartile of consumption.

Interestingly, while higher intake levels of miso and natto also showed some beneficial effects, these were less pronounced compared to yogurt and cheese. For example, mothers in the highest quartile of miso consumption had offspring with a modest reduction in the risk of communication skill delays. Conversely, natto intake did not significantly correlate with reduced developmental delays across the assessed domains.

Conclusions 

To summarize, when mothers consumed ≥1.3 g of cheese daily during pregnancy, their offspring had a significantly reduced risk of motor and neurodevelopmental delays at age 3. Fermented foods enhance nutritional value through microbial fermentation, promoting health and influencing neurodevelopment via gut-brain interactions. Previous studies have linked maternal intake of fish, fruits, and vitamins with better offspring development. This study extends prior findings, highlighting cheese's unique benefits. Cheese contains essential nutrients like protein, zinc, and tryptophan, which support neurodevelopment. Improved maternal gut health from fermented food intake could benefit fetal development, emphasizing the importance of maternal diet during pregnancy.

Journal reference:
Vijay Kumar Malesu

Written by

Vijay Kumar Malesu

Vijay holds a Ph.D. in Biotechnology and possesses a deep passion for microbiology. His academic journey has allowed him to delve deeper into understanding the intricate world of microorganisms. Through his research and studies, he has gained expertise in various aspects of microbiology, which includes microbial genetics, microbial physiology, and microbial ecology. Vijay has six years of scientific research experience at renowned research institutes such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and KIIT University. He has worked on diverse projects in microbiology, biopolymers, and drug delivery. His contributions to these areas have provided him with a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and the ability to tackle complex research challenges.    

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