Friday, November 16, 2012

Foetus suffers when mother lacks vitamin C

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen say maternal vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy can have serious, irreversible consequences for the foetal brain.

“Even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the foetal hippocampus, the important memory centre, by 10-15 per cent, preventing the brain from optimal development,” says Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt.

 Population studies show that between 10-20 per cent of all adults in the developed world suffer from vitamin C deficiency. Therefore, pregnant women should think twice about omitting the daily vitamin pill.

For their study the scientists studied pregnant guinea pigs and their pups. Just like humans, guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C themselves.

“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. 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,” says Jens Lykkesfeldt.

The study has also shown that the damage done to the foetal brain cannot be repaired, even if the baby is given vitamin C after birth.

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 scientists are now working to find out how early in the pregnancy vitamin C deficiency influences the development of foetal guinea pigs. Preliminary results show that the impact is already made early in the pregnancy, as the foetuses were examined in the second and third trimesters. Scientists hope in the long term to be able to use population studies to illuminate the problem in humans.

The scientists emphasized that if pregnant women eat a varied diet, do not smoke, and for instance take a multi-vitamin tablet daily during pregnancy, there is no reason to fear vitamin C deficiency.

“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,” concludes Jens Lykkesfeldt.

Read the article in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

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