A deficiency in vitamin C may impair the mental development of new-born babies, according to an animal study conducted by the University of Copenhagen.
Researchers found that that guinea pigs subjected to moderate vitamin C deficiency had 30% less hippocampal neurones and markedly worse spatial memory than guinea pigs given a normal diet. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Like guinea pigs, human beings are dependent on getting vitamin C through their diet, leading the scientists to speculate that vitamin C deficiency in pregnant and breast-feeding women could lead to impaired development in foetuses and new-born babies.
In some areas in the world, vitamin C deficiency is common. Population studies in Brazil and Mexico have shown that as many as 30 to 40 per cent of the pregnant women have levels of vitamin C that are too low, a condition which is transferred to in the foetuses they are carrying and their new-born babies. Estimates in the Western world range from 5 to 10 per cent of the population.
Lead researcher Jens Lykkesfeldt said: "We may be witnessing that children get learning disabilities because they have not got enough vitamin C in their early life. This is unbearable when it would be so easy to prevent this deficiency by giving a vitamin supplement to high-risk pregnant women and new mothers."
The research group is currently studying how early in pregnancy vitamin C deficiency affects the embryonic development of guinea pigs and whether the damage may be reversed after birth.
Tveden-Nyborg et al. "Vitamin C deficiency in early postnatal life impairs spatial memory and reduces the number of hippocampal neurons in guinea pigs." Am J Clin Nutr.2009; 0: ajcn.2009.27954v1-ajcn.27954