Posted on Jan 31, 2017, 6 a.m.
Vitamin A deficiency, in pregnancy or immediately after birth, has a detrimental effect on brain development and may lead to Alzheimer's Disease later in life.
Most people think Alzheimer's disease results from phenomenon that occur during the aging process. However, a new study conducted by the University of British Columbia shows that biochemical reactions that spur the onset of the disease commence in the womb or possibly immediately after birth. The University's scientists believe an infant who does not receive enough vitamin A is susceptible to the biochemical reactions that cause the disease. The findings were recently published in Acta Neuropathologica.
The findings outlined above are based on research conducted on genetically-engineered mice. The studies indicate that providing supplements to infants born with minimal vitamin A will likely prove effective in hindering the onset of the degenerative brain disease. Such a shortage of vitamin A, even during pregnancy, hinders brain development and produces long-lasting effects that might trigger the onset of Alzheimer's disease years later.
This study built on previous research efforts that connected low vitamin A levels to cognitive impairment. Dr. Tingyu Li and her colleagues studied the effects of insufficient vitamin A in the womb and infancy and how it relates to Alzheimer's model mice. The study was performed at the Children's Hospital of Chongqing Medical University. The early stages of an infant's development are critically important as this is when brain tissue develops in order to provide cognitive function for the remainder of the individual's life.
The research shows that even a fairly mild deficiency of vitamin A heightens the production of amyloid beta. This is a protein that generates plaques that stifle neurons in Alzheimer's disease. The study also found that the model mice deprived of vitamin A performed worse on various learning/memory tests. It is also important to note that when mice that were not supplied with vitamin A in the womb were provided with a regular diet as babies, they performed significantly worse on testing than mice that received an adequate amount of the nutrient while in the womb but deprived following birth. This means that ample damage can be done while the infant is in the womb.
Thankfully, the researchers proved that reversal is within reach: Mice that were deprived of vitamin A while in the womb but provided supplements after being birthed performed much better during testing than mice that were not provided with such supplements. The takeaway from these findings is that providing supplements to newborn Alzheimer's model mice decreases the amyloid beta level and boosts memory/learning deficits.
The study also provided evidence that humans lacking vitamin A suffer from dementia in later years. A total of 330 senior citizens in Chongqing were examined in the study. Scientists found that exactly three-quarters of those with mild or severe vitamin A deficiency suffered cognitive impairment. This is a stark contrast to the 47 percent of those with regular vitamin A levels who suffered from cognitive impairment.
An Excess of Vitamin A is Also Dangerous
The results of the studies described above should not be construed as a call to action for those who might lack vitamin A. It is critically important that readers do not overreact to the findings. Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent throughout third world countries and quite rare in developed lands. Those who suspect they are vitamin A deficient might be inclined to over-consume the vitamin to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's. Excess intake of this vitamin can prove harmful. In particular, pregnant women should avoid consuming an excess of vitamin A. The best way to combat the onset of Alzheimer's and other diseases is to consume a balanced diet.
Zeng, J., Chen, L., Wang, Z. et al. Marginal vitamin A deficiency facilitates Alzheimer’s pathogenesis Acta Neuropathol (2017). doi:10.1007/s00401-017-1669-y