Alzheimer’s Disease Can Be Traced Back To During Pregnancy

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Jan 31, 2017 09:31 AM EST

Night shift women can find it difficult to conceive because their hormonal cycle is disrupted. For conceiving a baby, consider working daytime. (Photo : Getty Images/David McNew)

A recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia suggest that biochemical reactions that cause Alzheimer's disease could begin in the womb or immediately after birth if the newborn does not get enough Vitamin A. These new findings, based on studies conducted on genetically-engineered mice, also show that nutritional supplements administered to newborns  have 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 a long-lasting effect that may facilitate Alzheimer's disease in later life," says Dr. Weihong Song, professor of psychiatry and Canada.

In the study, the researchers in collaboration with Dr. Tingyu Li and others at Children's Hospital of Chongqing Medical University built on previous studies that have linked low levels of vitamin A with cognitive impairments. They analyzed the effects of Vitamin A deprivation in the womb and during infancy on Alzheimer's model mice.

The early developmental stages are said to be crucial times as it is during these periods that brain tissue is programmed for the rest of a person's life. The researchers discovered that even a mild deficiency of vitamin increased the production of amyloid beta - the protein that forms plaques that smother and ultimately kill neurons in Alzheimer's disease, according to Science Daily.

They were also able to find that the mice performed woefully as adults on a standard test of learning and memory when deprived Vitamin A. The authors noticed that mice that were deprived Vitamin A in the womb but given a normal diet as mouse pups, performed worse than the mice who received a normal amount of the nutrient in the womb but were deprived after birth, thus, suggesting that the damage is already complete in the womb.

However, the findings of the study demonstrated that a reversal is not impossible as mice that were deprived in the womb but were given supplements immediately after birth performed better on the tests than mice that were not given any such supplements.

The study also comprises of new evidence in humans of the Vitamin A-dementia connection in later years. The researchers, examining 330 elderly people in Chongqing, found that 75 percent of persons with either mild or critical deficiency in Vitamin A had cognitive impairment compared to the 47 percent with normal Vitamin A levels, according to Medical Express.

But, the researchers caution against overreacting to this news as Vitamin A deficiency, even though very common in many low-income countries, is rare in North America with excess intake of the nutrient also harmful to health. They advised that pregnant women especially should not take excessive Vitamin A supplements with balanced diet being the best way to ensure adequate levels of the nutrient. They published their findings in Acta Neuropathologica.

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