If You’re a Picky Eater and Ya Know it, Clap Your Hands!

Monday, July 27, 2009 at Monday, July 27, 2009
Since Conner is only 6 months old, and seems to love every vegetable and fruit we give him, I feel very fortunate. I think at some point everyone has encountered (or is) a picky eater. Now, I think we all have one or two veggies/fruit or types of cuisines that we do not care for. But you know what I am talking about. I am talking about actually refusing to eat certain things. I have a close friend and her daughter will actually gag up most veggies. Collin used to work with a woman that made 5, yes FIVE different dinners every night because everyone wanted something different. I will admit that I have always thought that most of the food kids/people don’t like has almost everything to do with the parents’ attitude and behavior (and whether they knew how to cook the food item). For example, I happen to love broccoli. However, if you over cook broccoli, it tastes like ARSE! If Mom and Dad don’t eat or like fruits/veggies/ different cuisines, how on Earth are their kids supposed to like them? Boy I have been proven WRONG! Wrong. Wrong. Now, I do think that some peeps just turn their noses up at things because they sound weird, or they think they won’t like an item. But recent research has illuminated why some people really don’t like eating certain foods. And guess what…IT IS GENETIC! Who would have thunk?

So here’s how it goes. A study by Dr. Lucy Cooke, dept. of epidemiology and public health at University College London, was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Her study investigated almost 5400 twins to determine why kidlets have certain food aversions and/or neophobia (fear of trying new things). What her research suggests is that dislike for new or certain foods is inherited! Dr. Cooke estimates that food aversion is about 80% genetic, 20% environmental.

Another recent study, headed by Dr. Paul Breslin, contends that there is an evolutionary explanation for our dislike of certain foods, i.e. our ability to taste bitter foods was a defense mechanism to ensure we did not consume toxic foods. According to Dr. Breslin "the sense of taste enables us to detect bitter toxins within foods, and genetically-based differences in our bitter taste receptors affect how we each perceive foods containing a particular set of toxins". His research identified taste receptors sensitive to Glucosinolate-containing vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, turnips, kale, etc. His study investigated how adults respond to these veggies. A similar study investigated how kids respond. Both found that those with the more sensitive form of the Glucosinolate taste receptors on the tongue show a definite dislike for the aforementioned veggies. Those without the sensitive form of the Glucosinolate taste receptors don’t seem to taste the bitterness of the veggies.

So how is this genetic? Recently Nova Science Now (yes I am that dorky) aired a report on this very topic. On our chromosomes contain our genes. If Mom and Dad have the gene to encode this bitter taste receptor, YOU NO LIKEY BROCCOLI! If you got a sensitive one from Mom, but non-sensitive one from Dad, you may not completely like the taste, but you aren’t completely appalled by it, and could grow to like the bitter taste. And if neither Mom or Dad have the gene, you are not sensitive to bitter and should be able to eat whatever veggies your Mom puts in front of you!

For a fabulous video (well fabulous if you are a BIG ASS DORK LIKE ME) go here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0404/01.html

Now this is not meant to completely rule out the environment. If you are a picky eater, it is likely your kids will be too. If you are cooking these poor, innocent little veggies to oblivion (buy a cookbook already!) then they won’t taste good. I should also note that from what I have read, infants typically aren’t as picky as toddlers. So Conner may eat well now, but as he gets older we may see more of Mr. Picky Pants (but Collin and I both love almost every fruit and veggie out there so I think he will too).

In addition, the brain senses how something tastes not only from our taste receptors, but also from how food looks and smells. So if you try a different cooking method, and keep things fresh and colorful, perhaps this will aid in our preference?

It will be interesting to see if other dislikes (i.e. fish, curry) are genetically based too.

Lucy J Cooke, Claire MA Haworth and Jane Wardle. Genetic and environmental influences on children's food neophobia. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 2, 428-433, August 2007.

Mari A. Sandella and Paul A.S. Breslin. Variability in a taste-receptor gene determines whether we taste toxins in food. Current Biology. Volume 16, Issue 18, 19 September 2006, Pages R792-R794.

Kendra I Bell and Beverly J Tepper. Short-term vegetable intake by young children classified by 6-n-propylthoiuracil bitter-taste phenotype. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 1, 245-251, July 2006.


Conner's 6 month check-up

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Today we took our little trooper to see his doctor. You know, the cute pediatrician that Collin has to insult by calling him an Aggie :D I also must mention that I have no problem whatsoever with our Dr. Aggie because he told me that Conner's eyes will probably stay blue because his Mommy has "beautiful blue eyes". Sigh. Ok, just kidding, he is a good doctor but he is no Collin O'Bryant! Anywho, Conner weighs 14 lbs 8 oz and is now 25 inches long. Dr. Aggie said he looks really healthy. But there are a few things Mom and Dad need to work on. Apparently we should have been feeding him way more than we have. I promise we are not trying to make Conner look like a little starving munchkin. I just didn't realize he needed so much cereal. And we need to up our frequency to 3X, not 2X a day. So he is eating his veggies (spinach, carrot, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash and peas) and applesauce quite well. Now we just need more rice cereal and to feed him more! We also have to have him practice sitting up more on his own. We use a boppy pillow, but I got the sense that the doctor thinks we should have him sit sans boppy pillow. Other than that, his motor skills are developing quite well. He is now able to take his pacifier in and out of his mouth, take off his sunglasses, grasp toys (and bang himself over and over on the head...oy vey!) He did get his immunization shots, cried, then snuggled me, which I can't help but admit melts my heart. Collin was there comforting him while he got the shots. And he was our little trooper. And he is ridiculously cute! So there it is, Conner's update.

Hooray for Boobs!

Monday, July 20, 2009 at Monday, July 20, 2009
Since the 1930’s it has been accepted that breast milk is better than formula. Recently there has been an increased focus on the cognitive development of breast fed versus formula fed infants. Now I must start off by saying that this post is not meant to insult any woman that uses formula. Breastfeeding is my personal choice, but for various reasons is not feasible for everyone. I would also like to mention a huge caveat with this type of research…you cannot possibly account for all of the influences that determine IQ and cognitive development. However, the paper I am presenting did a fabulous job of taking 20 studies of breast fed and formula fed infants, tested on a variety of cognitive tasks, over an extended period of time, and has developed a convincing argument for why breast milk is better than formula for cognitive development.

Here are the benefits presented for breast fed infants:
1) ~ 3 points higher on IQ tests compared to formula fed
2) better academic achievement
3) better job performance (later in age)
4) lower delinquency rates
5) better performance on visual acuity tests
6) may have earlier acquisition of motor skills
7) fewer emotional/behavioral problems
8) fewer minor neurological problems later in life

The greatest beneficiaries of breast milk appear to be low birth weight babies. Normal birth weight babies score ~3 points higher on IQ tests compared to formula fed babies. Low birth weight babies scored 5.16 points higher.

So why all of the improvements for boob fed babies? Well, the basic credence accepted in this research is that breast milk contains 2 very important characters: arachadonic acid, aka omega-6 (AA) and decosahexanoic acid, aka omega-3 (DHA). DHA and AA are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs). “DHA is essential for retinal and nervous system development. AA is necessary for growth and ecosanoid synthesis (regulators of homeostasis and response to injury). Both LCPs are important constituents of neuronal membranes and blood vessels in the brain” (http://www.infactcanada.ca/fatty_acids_in_infant_developmen.htm)

So now that companies are now adding DHA/AA to formula (and pretty much everything else in baby food), it will be interesting to see if this offsets the benefit of boobs! The truth is, when it comes to most essential oils, fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, etc. the best place to get what you need is from the food itself. Vitamins will never give you the same benefit of a well balance, healthy meal. But now that they are adding DHA/AA to so many products, like milk, and to infant food products, maybe formula fed babies will reap the benefits?

Breast-feeding and cognitive development: a meta-analysis.Anderson JW, Johnstone BM, Remley DT. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Oct;70(4):525-35

Soybeans and the Magical World of Gayness

Thursday, July 2, 2009 at Thursday, July 02, 2009
I have been thinking about what tone I would like to set for this particular blog entry. Should I be witty, sarcastic, humorous, serious, dogmatic…you get the idea. Those that know me would not call me a delicate flower. I am an opinionated person. I used to hate that word because it seemed to have a negative connotation. But now that I am in my 30’s I realize that it is so not a bad thing. Although I have my opinions, I respect and encourage a diversity of thoughts, beliefs, viewpoints, etc. Life would be utterly boring if everyone thought like me. All that I ask is that you put some reality, research, FACTS and good consideration behind your convictions. I also believe that sometimes your beliefs can contradict each other. I am, by nature, an over-analytical scientist. I love the scientific process of forming a hypothesis, testing it, and presenting your findings. So I really believe in the “if I can see it, prove it, I will believe in it” ideology. But, I believe in God. I can’t prove there is a God, but I believe it and I am willing to go toe to toe with anyone who belittles me for believing in God. So…what the hell did this little nugget of “what does Amber believe” (not that you asked) have to do with Neuroscience, child development, etc…well I am getting there :) I recently was having a conversation with my fabulous mother-in-law about some research suggesting that infant soy formula correlates with homosexuality. So going back to my preface, I would like to say that while I navigate you through this topic, the tone will be a complex variety, total “Amber” style. First, if you honestly believe that homosexuality is a choice, you might as well stop reading this blog entry. And in your spare time, I challenge you to find me actual SCIENTIFIC proof that it is a choice. And if you do, I promise to wear a hula skirt and do a Hawaiian dance while singing “It’s a Small World After All”.

There are 2 reasons the “infant soy formula correlates to homosexuality” gets my feathers all ruffled. First, the “articles” (and I use that term extremely loosely) just say “researchers say” without EVER giving actual citations to their, um, ahem, claims. Second, I get quite surly when people misrepresent science. We see it all of the time. Vitamin D does this, then does that, then they find actually does nothing, then can cause harm. The truth is science is pretty complex. Findings are usually not 100% absolute and straightforward. There are always exceptions. But one main point I must stress here, as I have in other entries, is this: CORRELATION DOES NOT MEAN CAUSATION!

Now for the fun to begin…

Here is some basic Neuroscience on sexual differentiation (oversimplified). All humans, regardless of whether you have XX (girl) or XY (boy) chromosomes start out as “girls”. The absence of testosterone, and some other hormones, makes for a girl. The presence of testosterone, makes for a boy. I found this on a website so I am paraphrasing it:

Sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain is dependent on the presence or absence of estradiol, which is formed from testosterone. If you are a boy, some of your secreted testosterone is converted to estradiol, which masculinizes the male fetus’ brain. "Masculinizing" means giving it characteristics of a male brain, like being bigger, having a different metabolic pattern, and some larger structures (INAH-3, SDN-POA) compared with female brains. If you are a girl, there is no testosterone to be converted to estradiol. The Estradiol you get from Mom, you rely on alpha-fetoprotein to bind and disable estradiol.

Now, there are 2 critical periods for sexual differentiation. The first occurs in utero, the second at puberty. However, this is not to say that between these two times there are sensitivities to hormones. But this is the very simplified intro.

There is a website I found that basically calls soy products poison. The main reason it lists is that it is causing kids to be homosexual if they were exposed to infant soy milk. I won’t even list the website because it is spurious and egregious (in my opinion). But the “research” that this idiot (oops did I say that?), I mean author was using he never actually listed so who knows. Damn who knew that a soybean could open the magical world of gayness! So off I went to do my own research and here is what I found.

The basis of the soy=homo premise is based on a book by Dr. Doris Rapp who wrote “Is This Your Child’s World? (Bantam Books; 1996), p. 501. I have not read this book but what I know about her is that she is a pediatric allergist. Two websites have used her alleged claim that:
“Male children fed soy formulas and soy products may not ever get to like girls. Doris Rapp, MD, the world’s leading pediatric allergist, asserts that environmental and food estrogens are responsible for the increase in male homosexuality and the worldwide reduction in male fertility.” http://www.altpowerhealth.com/stephen_byrnes_archives/homosexualdebunking.htm
Now I have not idea if Dr. Rapp actually believes this, or if this is just a distorted view taken from her book. Regardless, I could NOT find any actual scientific articles linking isoflavones/soy/phytoestrogens to homosexuality. Homosexuality and sexual orientation is a HUGE topic. But since this is a blog (mostly) about child development and neuroscience, I will present a few scientific articles relevant to this topic.

A study by Storm et al. (2001) investigated different measures in men and women like onset of menarche, weight, height, sexual orientation, etc. These participants were in their 20’s and 30’s and were fed either “cow milk” formula or “soy milk” formula. They found no significant difference in sexual orientation. Period. Here is the studies’ actual conclusion “Exposure to soy formula does not appear to lead to different general health or reproductive outcomes than exposure to cow milk formula” (Storm et al., 2001). Now they do admit that they didn’t have the population numbers required to really draw a more definitive conclusion, which in layman’s terms means it happened too infrequently to be evaluated.

There is some evidence that soy can interfere with reproduction. I found this article which just about sums it up:
Isoflavone (IF), a type of phytoestrogen, has multiple beneficial effects, but too much phytoestrogen can have adverse effects on offspring. To examine whether chronic exposure to high IF has adverse effects on reproductive development, mice offspring were exposed to IF through dietary administration to dams during pregnancy and lactation and to the offspring directly after weaning until sacrifice. In male offspring, there was no difference between the IF group and controls; however, in female offspring in the IF group, remarkably earlier puberty and induction of multioocyte follicles on postnatal day (PND) 21 were observed. Gene expression levels of estrogen receptor beta decreased in the ovary and vagina on PND 21. These results suggest that chronic exposure to higher than normal levels of IF induces alterations in the reproductive development of female mice through an estrogenic effect.
Effect of exposure to high isoflavone-containing diets on prenatal and postnatal offspring mice.Takashima-Sasaki K, Komiyama M, Adachi T, Sakurai K, Kato H, Iguchi T, Mori C. Department of Bioenvironmental Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Chiba University. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2006 Dec;70(12):2874-82. Epub 2006 Dec 7.

Then I found this article:
The goal of this study was to determine if exposure to genistein, an isoflavone found in soy, during early periods of sex differentiation alters reproductive development and behavior in male mice. Female C57BL/6 mice were fed a phytoestrogen-free diet supplemented with 0, 5 or 300 mg/kg of genistein throughout gestation and lactation. Anogenital distance (AGD) and body mass of male offspring was measured weekly from postnatal days 2-21, timing of preputial separation was assessed at puberty, and in adulthood, reproductive organ masses, sperm and testosterone production, and reproductive and aggressive behaviors were assessed. Exposure to genistein resulted in smaller AGD are reduced body mass, with the low-dose diet exerting a greater effect. Timing of preputial separation, adult reproductive behavior, sperm concentrations and testosterone production were not influenced by genistein treatment at either dose. Aggressive behaviors were decreased, whereas defensive behaviors were increased, in males that received the low-dose genistein diet. Exposure to genistein during critical periods of sex differentiation results in concurrent and persistent demasculinization in male mice.
Perinatal exposure to genistein alters reproductive development and aggressive behavior in male mice. Wisniewski AB, Cernetich A, Gearhart JP, Klein SL. Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, USA. Physiol Behav. 2005 Feb 15;84(2):327-34. Epub 2005 Jan 12

Well doesn’t that just take the wind out of my sails…not so fast, though. Demasculinization and lower testosterone don’t mean homosexual. Mainly this article mentions affects to aggressive versus defensive behaviors. Let me repeat its statement “Timing of preputial separation, adult reproductive behavior, sperm concentrations and testosterone production were not influenced by genistein treatment at either dose”. So there you have it. Another example of how some studies find effects, and subsequent ones do not. But even if soy products lower sperm count and testosterone, there are plenty of heterosexual men that have low testosterone and you don’t see them running for the gay hills, right?! There is a laundry list of articles that state that soy-based phytoestrogens don’t interfere with all reproductive functions and/or behavior:

W.A. Fritz, M.S. Cotroneo, J. Wang, I.E. Eltoum and C.A. Lamartiniere, Dietary diethylstilbestrol but not genistein adversely affects rat testicular development, J. Nutr. 133 (2003) (7), pp. 2287–2293.

N Atanassova, C McKinnell, K.J. Turner, M. Walker, J.S. Fisher and M. Morley et al., Comparative effects of neonatal exposure of male rats to potent and weak (environmental) estrogens on spermatogenesis at puberty and the relationship to adult testis size and fertility: evidence for stimulatory effects of low estrogen levels, Endocrinology 141 (2000) (10), pp. 3898–38907.

Nagao, S. Yoshimura, Y. Saito, M. Nakagomi, K. Usumi and H. Ono, Reproductive effects in male and female rats of neonatal exposure to genistein, Reprod. Toxicol. 15 (2001) (4), pp. 399–411

N. Masutomi, M. Shibutani, H. Takagi, C. Uneyama, N. Takahashi and M. Hirose, Impact of dietary exposure to methoxychlor, genistein, or diisononyl phthalate during the perinatal period on the development of the rat endocrine/reproductive systems in later life, Toxicology 192 (2003) (2–3), pp. 149–170.

So, to sum this all up, I would say that there really isn’t any concrete evidence that infant soy formula has anything to do with homosexuality. While soy products may decrease fertility, and affect certain reproductive aspects, or lower testosterone, this is WAAAAYYYY different than saying it causes our boys to like other boys. All in all, I don’t think cow’s milk is the golden ticket either. Cow’s milk is laden with growth and other hormones, and antibiotics, and you really wanna tell me that isn’t affecting out kidlets? In addition, while I am not expert in food anthropology, wouldn’t countries that consume a lot of soy products, like oh I don’t know, China, Japan, Vietnam, to name a few, have higher instances of homosexuality? Maybe we consume more soy products here? Dunno?

Ok, I am ready…bring it! No really, I would love to get feedback, your viewpoints, or, dare I say…evidence counter to what I presented!

The Wonders of Motor Development

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at Wednesday, July 01, 2009
I am quite sleepy. My son, who is 5.5 months old, within the last 2 days has shown some cool motor developments. Well, cool if you are a Mommy, or are related to my kidlet. Otherwise, you could probably give a rats’ ass :) For the past two nights my son has shown his new ability…to roll onto his tummy! It is incredibly cute. Just.One.Issue. He gets mad when he rolls onto his tummy, and starts to cry, which means I get up, go to his crib, and roll him back on his back. I must backpeddle and say that prior to 2 nights ago, he slept for most of the night, except for one nighttime feeding. Now, in addition to his nighttime feeding, I get up about 3-4 times to roll him back onto his back. Hence, sleepy Mommy. But in the end, it is still really cute. He has also mastered grabbing his toes. Babies are just downright, effing cute! Grabbing toes has to be one of the cutest things. Based on my reading and research, it appears my kidlet is right in line with his motor development. I would attempt to go into the neurobiology of motor development, after all I study the motor cortex, however, I AM TOO DAMN SLEEPY! But looking at him nap (and the million other things he does) makes it all worth it!

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