Vitamin C deficiency among pregnant women can result in serious health complications in the fetus’ brain. Although women can make a conscious effort to take vitamin C supplements, if damage is already done to the baby’s brain, it can not be fixed, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen and published in PLOS ONE

According to the recent report, between 10 and 20% of all adults in the developed world do not get enough vitamin C, and pregnant women should make sure they are getting enough of this vitamin.

Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt, the lead scientist involved in the study, said, “Even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the fetal hippocampus, the important memory center, by 10-15 percent, preventing the brain from optimal development.”

Lykkesfeldt continued:

“We used to think that the mother could protect the baby. Ordinarily there is selective transport from mother to fetus 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.”

The recent findings reiterate the importance of pregnant women getting enough vitamin C while pregnant, and show that when fetal brain damage is already in effect, it is impossible to reverse it, even if vitamin C is given to the baby after he/she is born.

The experts analyzed guinea pigs for the purpose of their study. When the vitamin C deficient guinea pig pups were born, the researchers placed them in two separate groups. One of the groups was given vitamin C supplements. The experts found that after two months, there was no improvement in the guinea pigs that were given the supplements.

Now, the experts are setting out to determine at what point in the pregnancy vitamin C deficiency affects the development of fetal brains. Early findings indicate that the damage is done very early in the pregnancy, because the fetuses were analyzed during the second and third trimesters. The researchers hope that they can eventually use population trials to highlight the problem among humans, not just guinea pigs.

Lykkesfeldt continued:

“People with low economic status who eat poorly – and perhaps also smoke – often suffer from vitamin C deficiency. 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 noted that if women who are pregnant eat a diet high in variety, refrain from smoking, and take daily vitamins they should not be at risk for 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,” explained Jens Lykkesfeldt.

Written by Christine Kearney