Nutrition and the Brain: Psychosocial Correlations

  • Miguel R. Covian
Part of the Nutrition and Food Science book series (NFS, volume 3)


Many investigators have demonstrated1 what malnutrition during the first years of life causes decresed intellectual ability with consequent decreased learning and adaptation to the environment. To what degree are these deficiencies caused by malnutrition and/or other psychological and social factors associated with poverty? According to studies carried out on people in underdeveloped countries and on animals, malnutrition is the most important factor. Nutritional restrictions retard brain development during its earliest stages. In rats and guinea pigs, the brain reaches 80% of its adult size at the time of weaning, when body weight is only 20% of its adult size. An 8% decrease in total brain weight and 53% in body weight has been observed in rabbits that suffered from malnutrition during the first 21 days of life. The animals exhibited irritable behavior and became easy victims to respiratory ane eye infections10. Another observation is that total brain weight, plus DNA and protein content of the brain in rats that were malnourished during the earliest stages of life do not return to normal values when the animals are fed ad libitum after the initial period of deprivation12. In general, experiments carried out on animals which suffered malnutrition during infancy show behavioral deficiencies in adult life in terms of emotional stability, motor ability and learning. It is well known, however, that maternal and social deprivation during infancy also elicits these symptoms in animals. Female rats suffering from malnutrition but allowed to enjoy maternal care and social interaction did not develop motor or learning deficiencies, nor greater emotional instability during adulhood6.


Maternal Care Emotional Stability Adult Size Social Deprivation Brain Growth 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miguel R. Covian
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of PhysiologyFac. of MedicineRibeirão PretoBrazil

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