Infants and Cholesterol-Free Diets

Question:

I’m on my way to becoming an RD, and taking an advanced human nutrition class…I asked my professor if humans are able to produce the amount of cholesterol they need at all stages of life. He told me for adults yes, but it’s unclear whether babies can synthesize all they need because it raises the question of why there is cholesterol in breast milk. He noted that many animals won’t be able to keep up with the rapid brain and cell development without the immediate source of cholesterol from the mother. Since dietary sources of cholesterol typically come from animal sources, do you think it’s safe for babies who aren’t being breast fed to be fed a vegan formula?

Answer:

Here is what the Institute of Medicine says in their 2005 report Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients):

“Formula-fed infants also have a higher rate of cholesterol synthesis. However, the available evidence suggests this effect is transient. Differences in cholesterol synthesis and plasma cholesterol concentration are not sustained once complementary feeding is introduced. Also no clinically significant effects on growth and development due to these differences in plasma cholesterol concentration have been noted between breast-fed and formula fed infants under one year of age. One explanation may be that the developing brain synthesizes the cholesterol required for myelination in situ and does not take up cholesterol from plasma.”

There is more information at the link above.

4 Responses to “Infants and Cholesterol-Free Diets”

  1. Molly Says:

    This is very interesting, but as a layman, I don’t have a good handle on the lingo. Could someone clarify what “plasma cholesterol concentration” and “myelination in situ” mean? Thanks!

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Molly,

    > One explanation may be that the developing brain synthesizes the cholesterol required for myelination in situ and does not take up cholesterol from plasma.

    That means that the brain may synthesize the cholesterol needed for making nerve tissue in the brain, rather than getting the cholesterol from the blood.

  3. Molly Says:

    I think I get it… the brain uses cholesterol that’s already in the brain, so therefore it doesn’t matter if the baby is being fed meat or non-meat foods… right?

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Molly,

    Right, and that cholesterol was made in the brain. But, it was just a theory.

Leave a Reply