Genes may influence breastfeeding’s effect on IQ

By Tom Nordlie • Published: March 24th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Scientists have long debated whether intelligence is determined by nature or nurture.

Today, another possibility is getting attention… maybe it’s both.

For example, genetics may cause two individuals to respond differently to the same environmental factors.

A study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores that idea, investigating the connection between breastfeeding and intelligence quotient.

Previous studies have shown breastfed children have higher I-Qs.

That’s believed to happen because breast milk contains two fatty acids that promote brain development, but aren’t typically found in baby formula.

In the current study, researchers looked at a gene that helps control processing of those fatty acids.

The gene’s exact sequencing can vary slightly from one person to another. Some of the variations may determine how efficiently the fatty acids are used.

The study focused on one portion of the gene with three variations.

Researchers examined genetic, I-Q and breastfeeding data from more than twenty-seven-hundred children.

The kids were divided into groups based on which gene variation they had, and whether they were breastfed.

The results showed two of the variations favored breastfed children. They had I-Qs averaging almost seven points higher than their counterparts raised on formula.

Children with the third variation had about the same I-Qs regardless of whether they were breastfed.

So nature and nurture were working together.

Obviously, there’s more to intelligence than the effect of one gene.

But this study suggests that, as the old song says, little things mean a lot.