Avoiding long exposure to severe temperatures vital to save kids' developing brain: Experts

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New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) As exposure to extreme temperatures during early developmental stages can significantly impact neurodevelopment, specifically the integrity of white matter, experts on Sunday suggested that proper insulation, avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, and educating parents and caregivers on recognising signs of heat and cold stress are essential measures to protect the developing brain of children.

According to Sreenivas U.M., Consultant -- Neurology, MGM Hospital Chennai, heat exposure can lead to hyperthermia, disrupting normal cellular processes and causing neuronal injury, particularly in the developing brain, which has a high metabolic rate and is susceptible to heat-induced oxidative stress.

"Exposure to extreme temperatures during early developmental stages can significantly impact neurodevelopment, specifically the integrity of white matter. In the critical early years of life, the brain undergoes rapid growth, making it vulnerable to environmental stressors like extreme heat or cold, which can impair cognitive functions by damaging myelin," Sreenivas U.M. told IANS.

As per experts, young children are especially at risk due to their underdeveloped thermoregulatory mechanisms, which can lead to white matter injury.

"Temperature extremes can disrupt myelination, trigger inflammatory responses damaging myelin, and induce structural brain changes," said Shivananda Pai, Consultant Neurology, KMC Hospital, B.R. Ambedkar Circle, Mangalore.

In a recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, which included 2,681 children, the researchers found that exposure to cold during pregnancy and the first year of life, and exposure to heat from birth until three years of age were associated with higher mean diffusivity at preadolescence, pointing to slower white matter maturation.

'Cold' and 'heat', in this case, was defined as those temperatures that are at the lower and upper end, respectively, of the temperature distribution in the study region.

According to the experts, brain development involves stages such as neurogenesis, migration, maturation, synaptogenesis, pruning, and myelination, with myelination being crucial for efficient nerve signal transmission.

"This process, starting in the third trimester and continuing into middle age, can be disrupted by extreme temperatures, leading to physiological stress, neuro-inflammation, oxidative stress, cell death, and delayed myelination, all of which underscore the importance of maintaining an optimal thermal environment for healthy brain maturation and function," said Amrut S.D., Associate Consultant – Neurology, Manipal Hospital, Goa.