New Delhi, Nov. 16: Vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy may harm a key region of the brain in the offspring, a study on guinea pigs has shown, revealing what scientists say is a previously unrecognised consequence of this deficiency.
European scientists today reported that the volumes of the hippocampus in newborn guinea pigs whose mothers had been vitamin-C deficient were up to 15 per cent smaller than those of offspring with mothers with normal vitamin C levels.
The study by biologist Jens Lykkesfeldt at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his colleagues has also suggested that the impaired development of the hippocampus linked to prenatal vitamin C deficiency cannot be corrected by giving guinea pig pups vitamin C supplements after birth.
The hippocampus region is involved, among its other roles, in the storage and retrieval of memories.
"We find that prenatal vitamin C deficiency can affect the brain of the offspring," said Stephan Christen, a neurobiologist at the University of Berne, Switzerland, who was part of the research team.
The findings appear in the international journal PLOS One.
The researchers said their findings suggest that vitamin C, an essential nutrient, has a "pivotal role" in the early development of the hippocampus and emphasise the need to maintain adequate levels of this vitamin during pregnancy.
The new observations are based exclusively on laboratory guinea pigs and, the researchers say, the findings would need to be validated through studies in humans.
"These results could be an additional reason to ensure that pregnant women receive adequate vitamin C levels," Christen told The Telegraph.
Pregnant women are currently not routinely screened for vitamin C levels, said Suvarna Khadilkar, the chairperson of the reproductive endocrinology committee of the Federation of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.
"But expectant mothers are prescribed nutritional supplements to ensure they have adequate levels of iron, folic acid, and zinc ' and multi-vitamin tablets contain vitamin C," Khadilkar said.
In their study, the European researchers gave guinea pig pups vitamin C but found that even when the pups were two months old ' equivalent to teenage years in humans ' there was still no improvement in the volume of the hippocampus.
In a media release issued today by the University of Copenhagen, Lykkesfeldt said the findings raise the possibility that children born to mothers with vitamin C deficiency "risk being born with a poorly developed memory potential".