Studies suggest crucial role of vitamin C in early brain development and chronic disease prevention


Two recent studies, one from Canada, the other from Denmark, highlight the surprising extent of vitamin C deficiency and offer more good evidence about the importance of vitamin C for the healthy structure and function of our bodies. The timing of these studies is ironic given that the EU’s Food Supplements Directive is imminently set to restrict the available forms and the dosage of this safe and essential nutrient.

Vitamin C deficiency shown to be widespread

Vitamin C deficiency is becoming increasingly common. The results of a cross-sectional study of Canadian men and women aged 20-29 years were published in July 2009, in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This University of Toronto study, led by Leah Cahill, found that 1 in 7 of young non-smoking Canadian adults had serum vitamin C deficiency (<11 µmol/L), and only 53% had adequate serum vitamin C levels (>28 µmol/L).

In the US, 15% of adults are estimated to be deficient. A quarter of a century ago, this figure was only about 3 – 5%.

In Mexico, the percentage of women who were vitamin C deficient was estimated in 2003, to be as high as 40%, which may have serious clinical implications for their babies and children. That same study found that, amongst Mexican children under the age of two, the level of vitamin C deficiency was as much as 30%. The risk of deficiency decreased in women and children as socioeconomic level increased, and it was also found to be higher in older women.

Vitamin C deficiency linked to ‘impaired’ brain development

The Danish researchers at the University of Copenhagen, led by Jens Lykkesfeldt, have found that "vitamin C deficiency in early postnatal life results in impaired neuronal development and a functional decrease in spatial memory in guinea pigs".

The researchers stressed that the brain is likely to be particularly sensitive to vitamin C deficiency, stating: "Vitamin C has been shown to have a key function in the brain, and during states of deficiency it is able to retain higher concentrations of vitamin C than other organs. However, because neurons maintain one of the highest intracellular concentrations of vitamin C in the organism, the brain may still be more sensitive to deficiency despite these preventive measures"

Following on from their findings, Lykkesfeldt and colleagues wrote: "We speculate that this unrecognized effect of vitamin C deficiency may have clinical implications for high-risk individuals, such as in children born from vitamin C–deficient mothers".

Low dose vitamin C fails to correct deficiency

Of particular interest in the Danish study is the amount of vitamin C given in the ‘vitamin C deficient group’. The amount was calibrated to be small enough to result in symptoms of deficiency, yet it was still sufficient to prevent scurvy. This of course brings us back to the long-standing debate on optimal intakes in humans, which many nutritionists have argued should be in the gram range (usually over 2 grams daily, taken in divided doses), well above (the ridiculous, in our view) 60 mg EU Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). So, in the light of such study results, those who have been touting misinformation about RDAs being the ‘upper limit’ for vitamins and minerals begin to look very foolish indeed!

Many have speculated that the German ‘Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung’ (BfR) levels may eventually be used as the model for the setting of Maximum Permitted Levels (MPLs) of vitamins and minerals by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In the case of vitamin C, the BfR level is still a long way from a realistic optimal level for adults at 225mg per day, and it is likely that such low doses would not go far in correcting the very widespread deficiencies in this crucial vitamin amongst many population groups. Based on findings from the recent Danish study, it also seems that such enforced restriction may have serious implications for brain development in very young children.

ANH Petitions

If you are concerned about unfair restrictions on vitamin and mineral doses in Europe, please click here to sign our online petition.

We have also petitioned the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee as of September 2008. Our petition is currently active and is awaiting a response from the European Commission.

Canadian study also finds vitamin C deficiency linked to ‘adverse effects’

The Canadian researchers also found an association between low serum vitamin C and chronic disease markers in the young adults, "suggesting potential adverse effects".

"Subjects with deficiency had significantly higher measurements of mean C-reactive protein (a plasma protein that rises in the blood with the inflammation from certain conditions), waist circumference, body mass index, and blood pressure than did subjects with adequate levels of serum ascorbic acid".

Update on European bans on vitamin and mineral forms after 31 December 2009

The 31st December 2009 is a date etched on the minds of most European suppliers, manufacturers and retailers of vitamin and mineral containing food supplements. It represents the end of the 4-year derogation period for vitamin and mineral forms not on the Positive List of the Food Supplements Directive.

Of the roughly 300 or so vitamin and mineral forms that were derogated as of August 2005, only 69 have been successfully approved by the European Food Safety Authority and only these can continue to be sold after 1 January 2010. The remainder will be banned!

Click here to read the new list of vitamin and mineral forms that will be allowed EU-wide after 1 January 2010: see Annex II. An exception to this are very useful exclusions for natural sources, confirmed by the European Commission after ANH’s legal challenge and dossier submissions.


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