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Managing Low Blood Sugar Is Key to Brain Development

Correcting low blood sugar in infants reduces their risk of brain development problems later in life, new studies show.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is common in babies, affecting more than 1 in 6. Glucose (sugar) is the main source of energy for the brain, and untreated hypoglycemia in infancy can affect a child’s brain development up to 4.5 years of age, the researchers explained.

One of their studies included 480 children who were born at risk of hypoglycemia. Their brain development was assessed at 2 and 4.5 years of age, and their academic achievement and other measures of brain function were checked at ages 9 and 10.

Researchers found no difference in academic performance between children who had hypoglycemia as newborns and those who did not.

“Rich pre-school and school experiences may help a child’s brain to re-organize and improve their academic abilities up to the developmental milestones of their peers,” said researcher Ben Thompson, a professor in the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science in Ontario, Canada.

The ability to catch up in brain function could be due to plasticity, which is the ability to adapt, change and mature with experience, the researchers suggested.

“It’s a big relief to know that babies who are born with and treated for a condition as common as hypoglycemia are not likely to suffer long-term brain damage,” Thompson said.

In a related study, the same team found that using dextrose gel to treat low blood sugar in a newborn’s first 48 hours of life posed no risk of neurosensory problems at age 2.

Dextrose is a sugar that comes from corn or wheat. It is chemically identical to blood sugar. It’s widely used to treat low blood sugar in newborns in the United States, Canada and the U.K.

The two studies were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

For more on hypoglycemia in newborns, go to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

SOURCE: University of Waterloo, news release, March 30, 2022

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