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Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):935S-939S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26692B. Epub 2009 Jan 28.

Models linking nutritional deficiencies to maternal and child mental health.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


The primary goal of this article was to illustrate how nutritional deficiencies can translate into adult or child mental health problems. Whereas brain development and function play an essential role in the etiology and maintenance of mental health problems, what is required are models that go beyond nutrition-brain relations and integrate the contributions of nutritionally related contextual and behavioral characteristics. Four such models are presented. The multiple risks model derives from evidence showing covariance between nutritional deficiencies and other life stressors. Given that poorly nourished adults may be less able to actively cope with stressors, nutritional deficiencies may accentuate the negative impact of stress exposure on mental health. The cross-generational model is based on evidence showing less adequate patterns of mother-child interactions when mothers are poorly nourished. Impairments in mother-child interactions increase the likelihood of child mental health problems and the risk of subsequent child nutritional deficiencies. The attachment model derives from evidence showing that poorly nourished infants may be less likely to elicit the types of maternal child-rearing patterns that translate into secure infant-mother attachments. Insecure attachments in infancy are associated with an increased risk of both short-term and long-term child mental health problems. The temperament model is based on evidence documenting that certain patterns of infant temperament are related to an increased risk of later behavioral problems. Infant nutritional deficiencies can influence the development of temperament, and certain temperament patterns can contribute to an increased risk of infant nutritional deficiencies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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