For children, healthy lungs may mean healthier scores on tests of memory, learning and intelligence, a new study suggests.
A number of studies have linked lung function to mental acuity in middle-aged and older adults. While the reasons aren't fully clear, there is evidence that the respiratory and neurological systems are influenced by some of the same factors during prenatal and childhood development.
How the study was conducted
To see whether childhood lung function is related to mental prowess, researchers at Harvard University examined data on 165 Boston children who had been followed since birth.
At the age of 6, the children had their lung function tested. At age 9, they completed standard tests of memory, learning ability and intelligence.
The researchers found that for each increase in the children's lung-function performance, there was a corresponding increase in their cognitive-test scores.
The link remained even when the investigators accounted for factors that could be related to both lung function and cognitive abilities in children, like asthma, and exposure to lead or parents' smoking.
Dr Shakira Franco Suglia and colleagues report the findings in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Nature of link unclear
"Although it remains unclear just how pulmonary function influences cognitive outcomes," the researchers write, "a growing literature suggests possible mechanisms and supports the argument for biological plausibility."
For example, they note, research suggests that chronic stress might affect both lung and brain development.
More studies, the researchers conclude, should now delve into the connection between children's lung function and their brain function.
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, April 2008.
- (Reuters Health)