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Myelin: The insulation that coats the brain's wiring system

This is Science Today. Myelin is the fatty insulation that coats the axons of neurons, or the brain's internal wiring. Dr. George Bartzokis, a professor of neurology at the UCLA School of Medicine, has found evidence that the breakdown of myelin insulation is implicated in early developmental disorders.

Bartzokis: When you have problems myelinating circuits very early, you get severe learning disabilities and you get things like autism. If you start having problems myelinating a little bit later, you may end up with ADHD and a little bit later, you may end up with schizophrenia.

Narrator: Bartzokis says genetic defects or even nutritional deficiencies can prevent the production of myelin. Omega-3 fatty acids can help fortify myelin and the Food and Drug Administration now requires the supplementation of essential fatty acids in baby formula.

Bartzokis: Because it's been known for many, many years that breastfed babies had a higher IQ and after all this looking around for why that would be, one of the possibilities is that in breast milk, they get more essential fatty acids and therefore they can develop their brain better.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.