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Conception to age two: how the first 1,000 days impact life-long health

April 06, 2018
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“The first 1,000 days is the most important time for children in every aspect of growth and development,” says Dr. Crystal Karakochuk, investigator and clinical dietitian at BC Children’s Hospital. “No other time has as great an impact on lifelong health.”

A new book co-edited by Dr. Karakochuk and a team of international nutrition experts, aims to explain the critical period of development from conception to age two. “The Biology of the First 1,000 Days” is the first book of its kind to compile knowledge from a diverse team of scientific experts on how this relatively short time frame can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of good health.

“In the sciences, we typically work within our own specialized field, so it was important to us to bring all this knowledge from different areas into one accessible resource,” says Dr. Karakochuk.

Comprehensive and up-to-date, this book aims to help researchers, doctors and decision makers throughout the health care system implement early interventions that are cost effective and have maximum impact on child health.

“Take folic acid, for example,” says Dr. Karakochuk. “We know that folic acid is vital to the healthy development of baby’s spine, brain and skull, and that it can prevent spina bifida and other life-threatening and disabling birth defects. When you understand the biology behind neural tube closure in the first few weeks of pregnancy, you understand why it’s so critical that optimal nutrition be given during that time frame.”

While Dr. Karakochuk’s research focuses on the nutrition needs of expectant mothers and children, the book highlights the latest research in a wide variety of scientific areas. Chapter topics range from nutritional requirements, to abnormal fetal development and the importance of the microbiome—the collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live inside us and impact our overall health.

Global in scope, this book was recently launched at an international nutrition conference in Argentina where it received an enthusiastic response.

“There was huge interest from stakeholders across the world,” says Dr. Karakochuk. “In fact, there was so much global demand that we’ve made the book available for free on an open-access site. It is important to get this resource out to whoever needs it.”

Dr. Karakochuk has worked with the United Nations in countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia. She knows firsthand that early invention is especially important in areas of the world where children are malnourished.

“We hope this resource helps clinicians and policy makers in low-income countries to advocate for and focus resources during this critical time,” says Dr. Karakochuk. “Our book also looks at some of the critical health issues in these countries—like sanitation and hygiene—and how they impact nutrient absorption and healthy growth.”

No matter where a child lives, healthy growth is always tied to nutrition.

“Nutrition is the underlying theme of this book,” says Dr. Karakochuk. “It connects the 32 chapter topics and spans all domains. From specific nutrient absorption, to anti-bodies in breast milk that protect against disease and preventing birth defects through folate, nutrition is the cornerstone of child health.”

Dr. Karakochuk encourages expectant mothers and caregivers of young children in BC to get the best nutritional advice through resources like HealthLinkBC’s 8-1-1 phone number (to speak with a dietician) or through the HealthLink BC website.

The open access link for “The Biology of the First 1,000 Days” book can be found here.

Dr. Karakochuk is assistant professor in the Department of Food, Nutrition & Health in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia. She co-edited “The Biology of the First 1,000 Days” with:

  • Dr. Kyly Whitfield: Assistant professor, Mount Saint Vincent University
  • Dr. Tim Green: Principal nutritionist, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; affiliate professor, University of Adelaide; affiliate investigator, BC Children’s Hospital; and associate professor, UBC
  • Dr. Klaus Kraemer: Associate professor, Johns Hopkins University