Could Alzheimer’s Disease be caused by a vitamin deficiency?

By: Katie Campbell 

            Previously, studies have shown that low levels of Vitamin A are linked to cognitive impairment, and that amyloid beta plaques (and subsequent neuron death) cause Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at the University of British Columbia have combined these findings to perform studies investigating the relationship between vitamin A levels in early childhood and Alzheimer’s.

            The team, using genetically engineered mice, has shown that the biochemical reactions that cause amyloid beta plaques may begin if a fetus or newborn does not get enough vitamin A before birth. They found that mice deprived of vitamin A in the womb performed worse on standardized tests of memory as adults, despite a normal diet after birth. Despite this, mice deprived in utero, but given supplements after birth were able to recover some function, but did not perform at the same level as non-deprived mice.

            The study, published in Acta Neuopathologica, translated the work to humans. After studying a cohort of 330 elderly people in China, they showed that 75% of people with a vitamin A deficiency had cognitive impairment, compared to only 47% of those with normal vitamin A levels. Despite this stride forward in the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, the Primary Investigator of the research cautions that pregnant women should not take excessive vitamin A supplements, and suggests instead ensuring a balanced diet to ensure adequate consumption of all nutrients.   


University of British Columbia. (2017, January 27). Roots of Alzheimer's disease can extend as far back as the womb: Vitamin A deficiency could 'program' brain tissue. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 6, 2017 from