The findings, published today in Acta Neuropathologica, indicate that early developmental stages are crucial periods during which brain tissue is “programmed” for the rest of a person’s life.
According to researchers from the University of British Columbia genetically-engineered mice, also demonstrate that supplements given to newborns with low levels of vitamin A could be effective in slowing the degenerative brain disease.
“Our study clearly shows that marginal deficiency of vitamin A, even as early as in pregnancy, has a detrimental effect on brain development and has long-lasting effect that may facilitate Alzheimer’s disease in later life,” said Dr. Weihong Song.
For this research, Song built on previous studies that have linked low levels of vitamin A with cognitive impairments.
The researchers examined the effects of vitamin A deprivation in the womb and infancy on Alzheimer’s model mice.
They found that even a mild vitamin A deficiency increased the production of amyloid beta, the protein that forms plaques that smother and ultimately kill neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.
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Mice who were deprived in utero but then given supplements immediately after birth performed better on the tests than mice who weren’t given such supplements.
“In some cases, providing supplements to the newborn Alzheimer’s disease model mice could reduce the amyloid beta level and improve learning and memory deficits,” said Song.
The study also included new evidence in humans of the vitamin A-dementia connection in later years.
Pregnant women in particular should not take excessive vitamin A supplements. A balanced diet is the best way to ensure adequate levels of the nutrient.