Low Birth Weight Linked to Less Brain Power, but Overcome by Education

low birth weight associated with reduced cognitive powers later in life

Photo by George Ruiz

By Case Adams, Naturopath

Having a healthy weight at the time of birth is typically considered a good sign of health. And for good reason, because it often means the baby has received good nourishment within the womb.

Newer research is not only proving this out, but surprisingly showing that early birth weight can affect our cognition as we fade into our elderly years.

Research from the U.S. National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, MD has found that lower birth weight can mean lower cognitive function later in life.

The caveat is that this association is limited to those with lower levels of education.

The researchers selected and analyzed birth records of 1,254 men and women from Iceland who were born between 1907 and 1935. All the subjects selected were given cognitive testing along with MRI brain scans at approximately 75 years of age.

The birth records were retrieved for births between 1907 and 1935. The researchers adjusted the data for medical history and intracranial volumes.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study found those with lower birth weights had significantly smaller total brain mass and lower levels of white brain matter later in life. Lower birth weights were also linked with slower cognitive processing and reduced executive functions.

However, the associations between lower birth weights and lower cognitive function could only be made among those who had lower education levels. Those with more education had no such relationship.

Brain plasticity and education

This provides yet another reason to continue learning. It illustrates the ability of the brain to change as it is being exercised. This is often referred to as brain plasticity – the ability of the brain to change and adapt as environmental conditions change.

The fact that education relates directly to cognitive impairment has been proven out in other studies. So it is never too late to change one’s cognitive powers through mental exercise and intellectual curiosity.

For example, one study analyzed 60 cognitive studies and found that cognition was improved among those elderly persons who increased their health literacy – which means learning new things about health and challenging ones medical vocabulary – as we often do on this site :).

Probiotic strategies to increase birth weight

Low birth weights among babies does not occur by accident. It is typically related to the health and diet of the mother during pregnancy. There are definitely things that can be done to encourage a better birth weight

As I discussed in my book on Probiotics, studies have shown that mothers who supplemented with probiotics during their pregnancy tended to have babies with better birth weights, with fewer premature births.

Premature births is often the result of a lack of balanced probiotic species within mom’s intestines and birthing canal.


Muller M, Sigurdsson S, Kjartansson O, Jonsson PV, Garcia M, von Bonsdorff B, Gunnarsdottir I, Thorsdottir I, Harris TB, van Buchem M, Gudnason V, Launer LJ. Birth Size and Brain Function 75 Years Later. Pediatrics. 2014 Sep 1. pii: peds.2014-1108.

Kobayashi LC, Wardle J, Wolf MS, von Wagner C. Aging and Functional Health Literacy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2014 Dec 11. pii: gbu161.

Adams C. Probiotics: Protection Against Infection. Logical Books, 2012.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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