B vitamin deficiencies linked to poor infant development issues

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Correcting children`s vitamin B12 and B1 status early may be one measure to secure a healthy development for children. ©iStock/evgenyatamanenko
Correcting children`s vitamin B12 and B1 status early may be one measure to secure a healthy development for children. ©iStock/evgenyatamanenko

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Children deficient in vitamin B1 and vitamin B12 show lower cognitive and motor function skills, find two studies investigating the long-term effects of child development with incomplete vitamin profiles. 

Research that specifically looked into vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency found a link with poor vitamin status early in life and a lower performance with tasks that involve recognition and interpreting feelings.

A similar study that focused on B1 (thiamine) deficiency found affected infants, who were given faulty formula in the first year of their lives, had poorer motor function and balance.

“Our results clearly demonstrate associations between early vitamin B12 status and various measures on development and cognitive functioning, as for example the ability to interpret complex geometrical figures, and the ability to recognise other children`s emotions,"​ said lead researcher Dr Ingrid Kvestad from Uni Research in Bergen, Norway.

“We've proven that B1 deficiency in infancy has long-term implications on gross and fine motor function and balance skills in childhood,"​ said professor Aviva Fattal-Valevski of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine.

"Our study emphasises the importance of proper infant feeding and regulatory control of breast milk substitutes."

The studies’ emphasis on this vitamin deficiency at an early age gives indications as to its role in the child’s development and the impact in later life.  

Vitamin B1 is an essential micronutrient known to play a major role in brain and cardiovascular function and development. It is also a key contributor to regulating skeletal muscle function including that of the kidneys, liver and the nervous system.

Likewise, previous findings indicate that vitamin B12 is important for the developing brain and nervous system, and the formation of red blood cells.

Study details

vitamin B12
Almost all markers of vitamin B-12 status were associated with a decrease in test scores which evaluate ability to solve tests. ©iStock

In the first study, researchers from Uni Research in Bergen, Norway collected blood from 500 infants in Bhaktapur, Nepal, and measured their B12 status.

Approximately 5 years later, they contacted 320 of these children and conducted various developmental and cognitive tests.

All markers of vitamin B-12 status with the exception of plasma cobalamin were significantly associated with a decrease in test scores at 5 years of age, which evaluate ability to solve tests, such as the ability to do puzzles, recognise letters and interpret other children's feelings.

"Most of the Nepalese children participating in the study did not have severely low levels of vitamin B12, but their levels were suboptimal, below the recommendations for best possible growth and development,"​ said Dr Kvestad.

The second study was conducted at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine.

Here, professor Fattal-Valevski tracked the development of 39 five- to six-year-old children who had been fed during the first 2 years of life with a faulty milk substitute. This formula was deficient in vitamin B1.

These children were compared with 30 age-matched healthy children with unremarkable infant nutritional histories.

Tests to evaluate the motor function of the participants revealed statistically significant differences between the exposed and unexposed groups for gross and fine motor development.

The differences were especially apparent in balance-control functioning and fine motor skills.

“It became clear that the infants, all under a year old, had consumed the same formula,”​ said professor Fattal-Valevski.

"After a food technician from the Health Department confirmed the total lack of vitamin B1 in the formula, we immediately provided the infants with supplements. Some recovered quickly, but three infants died and about 20 infants were left with severe disabilities and epilepsy."

EFSA recommendations

The body's capacity for storing vitamin B1 is limited. Unlike B12, vitamin B1 is only stored in the body for three weeks and needs to be regularly replenished.

Specific groups like the elderly and athletes may need to supplement their intake of B12 and other B vitamins due to problems in absorption and increased needs for energy production.

Dietary reference values for vitamin B1, as set out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), stated an Average Requirement (AR) of 0.072 milligrams per megajoule (0.3 mg/1,000 kilocalorie) as appropriate for infants aged seven to 11 months and children aged one to 18 years.

In addition, a Population Reference Intake (PRI) of 0.1 mg/MJ (0.4 mg/1,000 kcal) was approved by EFSA’s scientific panel.

For vitamin B12, infants aged 7–11 months were set a dietary reference value (DRVs) of 1.5 μg/day and children aged 15–17 years 4 μg/day.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print:  doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.116.144931
“Vitamin B-12 status in infancy is positively associated with development and cognitive functioning 5 y later in Nepalese children.”
Authors: Ingrid Kvestad et al.

Source: Maternal and Child Nutrition
Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12397
“The effect of subclinical infantile thiamine deficiency on motor function in preschool children.”
Authors: Aviva Fattal-Valevski et al.

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