A lack of vitamin C during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the development of the foetal brain, leading to long term damage that cannot be reversed after birth, warn researchers writing in PLoS ONE.
"Even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the foetal hippocampus, the important memory centre, by 10-15%, preventing the brain from optimal development," said research leader Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt – from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Lykkesfeldt added that because many population studies have shown that between 10-20% of all adults in the developed world suffer from vitamin C deficiency, pregnant women should think twice about neglecting to take a daily vitamin supplement.
"We used to think that the mother could protect the baby. Ordinarily there is a selective transport from mother to foetus of the substances the baby needs during pregnancy,” said Lykkesfeldt. “However, it now appears that the transport is not sufficient in the case of vitamin C deficiency.”
“Therefore it is extremely important to draw attention to this problem, which potentially can have serious consequences for the children affected.”
"Because it takes so little to avoid vitamin C deficiency, it is my hope that both politicians and the authorities will become aware that this can be a potential problem," he said.
Lykkesfeldt and his team came to these conclusions by studying pregnant guinea pigs and their pups – which, just like humans, cannot produce vitamin C themselves.
The team randomised 80 pregnant guinea pig to receive a diet either high (900 mg/kg) or low (100 mg/kg) in vitamin C – finding that those receiving a low level of vitamin C gave birth to pups with damaged brain development.
When the vitamin C deficient guinea pig pups were born, scientists divided them into two groups and gave one group vitamin C supplements. However, when the pups were two months old, which corresponds to teenage in humans, there was still no improvement in the group that had been given supplements.
The team said the results sharpen focus on maternal lifestyle and nutritional status during pregnancy.
"People with low economic status who eat poorly - and perhaps also smoke - often suffer from vitamin C deficiency,” said Lykkesfeldt. “Comparatively speaking, their children risk being born with a poorly developed memory potential.”
“These children may encounter learning problems, and seen in a societal context, history repeats itself because these children find it more difficult to escape the environment into which they are born," he warned.
Source: PLoS ONE
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048488
“Maternal Vitamin C Deficiency during Pregnancy Persistently Impairs Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Offspring of Guinea Pigs”
Authors: Pernille Tveden-Nyborg, Lucile Vogt, Janne G. Schjoldager, Natalie Jeannet, et al