Vitamin C deficiency impairs early brain development

Updated: Sep 03, 2009, 00:00 AM IST

London: Newborn guinea pigs subjected to Vitamin C deficiency have worse memory than their counterparts with enough of the vitamin, says new research suggesting that it may be essential for brain activity in humans too.

Research at LIFE - Faculty of Life Sciences at University of Copenhagen - shows that vitamin C deficiency may impair the mental development of newborn babies.

A group of researchers headed by professor Jens Lykkesfeldt shows that guinea pigs subjected to moderate vitamin C deficiency have 30 percent less neurons and markedly worse spatial memory than guinea pigs given a normal diet.

Like guinea pigs, human beings are dependent on getting vitamin C through their diet, and Lykkesfeldt therefore speculates that vitamin C deficiency in pregnant and breast-feeding women may also lead to impaired development in foetuses and newborn babies.

Several factors indicate that the neonatal brain, in contrast to other tissue, is particularly vulnerable to even a slight lowering of the vitamin C level.

The highest concentration of vitamin C is found in the neurons of the brain and in case of a low intake of vitamin C, the remaining vitamin is retained in the brain to secure this organ.

The vitamin thus seems to be quite important to brain activity. Tests have shown that mouse foetuses that were not able to transport vitamin C develop severe brain damage.

Brain damage which resembles the ones found in premature babies and which are linked to learning and cognitive disabilities later in life. Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is essential for a number of bodily functions.

In the adrenal glands, vitamin C is required for the production of the hormone adrenaline which the body uses in stress situations and for physical activities.

Vitamin C is also necessary to form the protein collagen which is an important constituent part of sinews, gum, cartilage and bones, said a LIFE release.

Vitamin C is also vital to the immune system. Humans and guinea pigs are among the few mammals that cannot produce vitamin C themselves but are entirely dependent on having it supplied through their diet.