Scientists from Osaka University and Osaka Medical College report that supplementing extremely low birth weight infants for greater than six months was associated with significantly lower odds of for impaired mental development at eight years, compared with the control group.
“The hypothesis that alpha-Tocopherol induces synapse elimination in the brain during early infancy could explain the improvement in group C’s developmental scores,” they wrote in Acta Paediatrica. “In this group, developmental quotient and IQ levels were higher and learning disorder and borderline intellectual disability were less frequent than other groups.”
Vitamin E – the overlooked nutrient for brain health?
There are eight forms of vitamin E: Four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta).
The majority of the science in the past has looked at vitamin E in the alpha-tocopherol form in the context of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and eye disease.
However, several high profile cancer and cardiovascular disease studies dismissed vitamin E, and this has had an unfortunate knock-on effect to the wider population. Data from longitudinal studies shows that the prevalence of vitamin E supplementation has fallen from 44.3% in 2002 to 19.8% in 2006, and over 90% of Americans not consuming the RDA for vitamin E.
Several recent studies have reported the potential brain health benefits of the nutrient, with data from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden indicating that all plasma vitamin E forms may play a role in brain health (Experimental Gerontology, Vol. 48, pp. 1428-1435).
To read our recent feature exploring the role of vitamin E in brain health, please click here: Vitamin E: The ‘overlooked’ nutrient and its brain health benefits
The new study from Japan is said to be only the third to “provide evidence for the role of alpha-Tocopherol in child development and the first to show the effective duration of alpha-Tocopherol administration in extremely low birth weight infants.”
The Osaka-based scientists recruited 259 school-aged children born with extremely low birth weight and divided into three groups according to the length of vitamin E supplementation they received as infants. The three groups were no supplementation, supplementation of less than six months, and supplementation of longer than six months.
“Currently there is no clear requirement to ensure that extremely low birth weight infants receive regular intake of vitamin E,” they wrote. “Daily supplementation of 5-25 international units (IU) of vitamin E for preterm infants is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Committee on Nutrition (AAP) (Committee N 1985). Our supplementation dose of 20mg (20 IU) /kg was much higher than the AAP’s recommended dose for infants.”
The data indicated that the children with the long-term supplementation had the best outcome. In addition to the long-term group having the lowest incidence of mental impairment, they also had the best performance IQ, compared to the other groups.
Despite the promising results, the authors urged caution, noting that many questions remain unanswered about how vitamin E may affect brain development during infancy
“We believe that on-going investigation of the mechanism of alpha-Tocopherol action in infant development will be necessary in future research. In particular, large randomised control trials will be needed to assess the effectiveness of vitamin E supplementation, not only for extremely low birth weight infants but also for term infants.”
Source: Acta Paediatrica
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/apa.12854
“Long-term alpha–Tocopherol supplements may improve mental development in extremely low birth weight infants”
Authors: H. Kitajima, T. Kanazawa, R. Mori, S. Hirano, T. Ogihara, M. Fujimura