A new study has found that lack of vitamin C in pregnant mothers can have serious consequences for the fetal brain.
The study also found that once the brain damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed by vitamin C supplements after birth.
"Even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the fetal hippocampus, the important memory center, by 10-15 per cent, preventing the brain from optimal development," said Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt.
He heads the group of scientists that reached this conclusion by studying pregnant guinea pigs and their pups. Just like humans, guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C themselves, which is why they were chosen as the model.
"We used to think that the mother could protect the baby. Ordinarily there is a 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," said Jens Lykkesfeldt.
The new results sharpen the focus on the mother's lifestyle and nutritional status during pregnancy. The new study has also shown that the damage done to the fetal brain cannot be repaired, even if the baby is given vitamin C after birth.
"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," said Jens Lykkesfeldt.
He emphasizes 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.
The finding has just been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.