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Natural Vitamin E & DHA: Essential nutrients for your infant's brain development

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Research has found that DHA helps in a baby’s cognitive or brain development, immunity and visual acuity. Along with DHA, the nutrients that are required to enhance your baby’s brain development are Vitamin E, AA, Choline, Lutein and Taurine.

Scientists have recently discovered the importance of the combination of Natural Vitamin E and DHA for brain development as it helps the brain produce more powerful connections in brain cells than just DHA alone. The Vitamin E benefits for infants include powerful anti-oxidant properties that prevent any oxidative damage of DHA. This helps keep the DHA intact i.e the DHA is protected from damage, which in turn keeps the cognitive or brain development of the baby intact.

Understanding Infant Cognition or Brain development

Genetics, environment and nutrition affect infant brain development and growth. It is important that parents talk to the baby from an early age, build their vocabulary and engage with their child in a meaningful manner. The period of time between the conception of a baby and 2 years of age, is a period sensitive to the effects of nutrients on brain development of the child’s growth and cognition.

Right nutrition during pregnancy leads to improved health of the baby at birth. 90% brain development takes place by the age of 2 years.

Vitamin E deficiency is associated with severe malnutrition that can impair cognitive or brain development in children. Let us dive deeper into understanding the importance of Vitamin E.

Natural Vitamin E Benefits:

Natural Vitamin E i.e. RRR – alpha – tocopherol shows the highest biological activity and is found in brain regions that support learning and memory.

Supplementation of Vitamin E can lead to long-term benefits in motor development and cognition.

Let’s understand the role played by Vitamin E in the baby’s cognitive or brain development:

1. Vitamin E protects DHA from oxidation:

DHA is a building block that is important in enhancing brain development but it is also vulnerable to oxidative damage. Natural Vitamin E acts like a sentry guard protecting DHA from oxidizing with Lutein.

2. Vitamin E is potent:

The synthetic Vitamin E found in dietary supplements and foods that are fortified is only half as potent and active as Natural Vitamin E.

3. Vitamin E in the babies’ brain:

Research showed that Natural Vitamin E accumulates in parts of the brain associated with visual memory and language development.

Natural Vitamin E V/s Synthetic Vitamin E:

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Vitamin E exists in various forms. The one that meets human nutritional requirement is called alpha-tocopherol or Natural Vitamin E. There are 8 forms of Vitamin E that can be absorbed and retained by the human body. Out of these, only one form is naturally available in food and is called Natural Vitamin E. The body actually discriminates against synthetic Vitamin E and favours Natural Vitamin E.

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Natural Vitamin E can be found in certain foods. Here are the foods that are rich in Natural Vitamin E, which the mothers must include in their diet:

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1. Vegetable oils:

Sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil.

2. Leafy greens:

Spinach, kailan, kangkung, broccoli.

3. Seafood:

Salmon, trout, shrimps.

4. Nuts and seeds:

Almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Natural Vitamin E is also present in packaged foods. Here’s how you can identify Natural Vitamin E on food labels:

NATURAL Vitamin E is commonly listed as ‘RRR-alpha-tocopherol’ or ‘d-alpha-tocopherol’ on food packaging and labels. The synthetic forms of Vitamin E are usually listed as ‘all-rac-a-tocopheral’. When making the purchase, make sure you read the label information for the above mentioned details.

For the maximum possible benefit from Natural Vitamin E consumption there is a recommended daily intake of Vitamin E.

According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin E for children between the ages 1 to 3 is 6 mg (9 IU) per day. This amount is equivalent to 1 table spoon of sunflower oil or 1.5 cups of spinach or 2.5 cups of chopped broccoli.

It is important to note that the lack of critical brain nutrients in the first 12 months of life may lead to irreversible cognitive or brain impairment. Preterm babies are more prone to preterm stress. Natural Vitamin E protects DHA from oxidative damage, thus keeping the cognition growth of the baby intact.

Suggested Reading:
  1. Prado EL, Dewey KG. Nutrition and brain development in early life. Nutr Rev. 2014;72(4):267-284
  2. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture. Working paper #5. 2007. http://www.developingchild.net. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  3. Scott DT, Janowsky JS, Carroll RE, et al. Formula supplementation with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: are there developmental benefits? Pediatrics. 1998;102:E59.
  4. Auestad N, Scott, DT, Janowsky JS, et al. Visual, cognitive, and language assessments at 39 months: a follow-up study of children fed formulas containing long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to 1 year of age. Pediatrics. 2003;112:e177-e183.
  5. Data on file. Abbott Nutrition; Columbus, OH.
  6. Bovier ER, Renzi LM, Hammond BR. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on neural processing speed and efficiency. PLoS One. 2014;9(9):e108178. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0108178.
  7. Mackey AD, Albrecht D, Oliver J, et al. Plasma carotenoid concentrations of infants are increased by feeding a milk-based infant formula supplemented with carotenoids. J Sci Food Agric. 2013;93(8):1945-1952.
  8. In vitro study using a cell line model for neuronal function and differentiation research.
  9. Vazhappily R, YL Low. Lutein and natural vitamin E enhance the effects of docosahexaenoic acid on neuronal differentiation. Presented at the American College of Nutrition 57th Annual Conference, San Diego, CA; November 9-11, 2016.
  10. Vazhappily R et al. Natural vitamin E and lutein protects DHA from peroxidation in neurons. Presented at the American College of Nutrition 54th Annual Conference, San Diego, CA; November 13-16, 2013.
  11. Vitamin E: Fact Sheet for Healthcare Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/
  12. Kuchan MJ et al. Br J Nutr. 2016; 116: 126-131. Prado EL, Dewey KG. Nutrition and brain development in early life. Nutr Rev. 2014;72(4):267-284
  13. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture. Working paper #5. 2007. http://www.developingchild.net. Accessed January 12, 2016. 3. Scott DT, Janowsky JS, Carroll RE, et al.
  14. Formula supplementation with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: are there developmental benefits? Pediatrics. 1998;102:E59.
  15. Auestad N, Scott, DT, Janowsky JS, et al. Visual, cognitive, and language assessments at 39 months: a follow-up study of children fed formulas containing long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to 1 year of age. Pediatrics. 2003;112:e177-e183.
  16. Bovier ER, Renzi LM, Hammond BR. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on neural processing speed and efficiency. PLoS One. 2014;9(9):e108178. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0108178.
  17. Mackey AD, Albrecht D, Oliver J, et al. Plasma carotenoid concentrations of infants are increased by feeding a milk-based infant formula supplemented with carotenoids. J Sci Food Agric. 2013;93(8):1945-1952.
  18. Dr. Samir Dalwai CD
  19. Data on file.