Children's brain hunger for energy slows down growth

Children's brain hunger for energy slows down growth

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Children's brain hunger for energy slows down growth

Humans grow relatively slowly compared to monkeys or other mammals. This has to do with the fact that the brain of Homo Sapiens uses a lot of energy. US researchers have now backed up this long-held conjecture with data.

Energy requirement of the brain highest at four to five years. Humans grow relatively slowly compared to monkeys or other mammals because their brains need a lot of energy. US researchers have now backed up this long-held conjecture with data. According to a report by the dpa news agency, Christopher W. Kuzawa's team from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, found that brain energy expenditure is greatest when body weight growth is at its lowest: four to five Years.

Growth of young people is similar to that of reptiles. In this phase, the brain needs about 43 percent of the energy of the whole body, the scientists write in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences". This is more than double the energy needs of the adult brain. The researchers also write that the slow growth of young people is more like that of reptiles than that of mammals. "As humans, we have a lot to learn, and this learning needs a complex and energy-hungry brain," said Kuzawa in a press release from his university. “From a certain age it becomes difficult to estimate the age of small children by their size. Instead, you have to hear what they are saying and observe their behavior. ”The reason for this is that body growth almost stops if the brain consumes significant amounts of energy from food.

Energy needs of the brain at their lowest point six months after birth It is striking that the energy requirement is not greatest when the brain has the largest volume compared to the body - this would be the case immediately after birth. Only about half a year after birth does the young brain's energy requirements drop to a low. At around four years of age it then has the highest energy requirement in relation to the body and at five years it has the highest energy requirement ever. In the age range between half a year and 13 years, the energy consumption of the brain is inversely proportional to the weight gain of boys. According to the researchers, this connection ends in girls at around the age of eleven because puberty begins earlier.

Energy consumption determined earlier via oxygen consumption As the researchers write, the energy consumption of the brain was determined in previous studies based on oxygen consumption. However, the team around Kuzawa now chose a different route and for the first time compared the energy requirement in the form of glucose (simple sugar) with the growth in body weight. In a previous study, glucose consumption was determined using positron emission tomography (PET) on 36 people, from infants to adults. The data for the development of brain volume come from an examination using magnetic resonance imaging with 402 people in this age range. The team also used existing material for further data.

Children's brain's energy requirements were underestimated Up to 30 percent of the glucose consumed would not be used to generate energy in around five-year-olds, but would be needed to produce proteins that are associated with the formation of synapses between nerve cells. The scientists write that the energy needs of the children's brain have therefore been underestimated. "Our brain is a real energy monster in childhood," said Kuzawa in a message. According to experts, it is particularly important in childhood to provide adequate brain food with the help of healthy nutrition. Among other things, complex, long-chain carbohydrates, which are present in whole-grain bread or oatmeal, are recommended. Whole grain muesli with fresh fruit is a good start to the day - not just for children. (ad)

Photo credit: S. Hofschaeger /

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