Mummies, there may be one more reason to load up your kids on their greens – Natural Vitamin E! What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s the form of vitamin E that exists naturally in food.
You might have heard that a baby’s brain develops rapidly from birth until age 3, by which it would have grown up to 80% of the adult brain! This is that crucial period where the baby is constantly learning something new, to walk, to talk and to generally play around with his senses.
It is common knowledge that many different nutrients like DHA, AA, choline, taurine and lutein are vital for this rapid growth of the infant brain. Recently it has also been found out that vitamin E is as essential for brain development.
Apparently, Natural Vitamin E (NVE) or RRR-Vitamin E is more biologically active than the synthetic forms of vitamin E, which are typically found in fortified foods and supplements.
Talk by Abbott scientist Dr. Matthew J. Kuchan
Recently, we had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Matthew J Kuchan (Senior Principal Research Scientist, Global Cognition Platform Lead, Center for Nutrition Learning and Memory, University of Illinois) at Abbott’s R&D Centre at the Biopolis, Singapore. Dr Kuchan has recently been researching extensively on the differences between natural and synthetic vitamin E on brain development. He had some fascinating insights to offer based on research in this area:
- Baby’s brain prefers Natural Vitamin E (NVE) over Synthetic Vitamin E: What’s more, crucial areas of the infant brain associated with visual, memory and language development have a greater concentration of Natural Vitamin E as opposed to the synthetic version.
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- Breast milk is abundant in NVE: Nature seems to know what is best for the baby. NVE was found to be the predominant form of vitamin E in breast milk. Hence, breast milk is a great source of NVE for baby.
- Placenta prefers NVE: A study conducted elsewhere has found that the placenta preferentially transports NVE to the baby, so women who are pregnant should eat a balanced diet rich in NVE
- Natural Vitamin E might protect DHA from damage by free radicals: In fact, NVE, together with DHA and lutein have been shown to help enhance the forging of connections between neurons (brain cells).
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NVE is also found abundantly in breast milk. According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine, for a 1-year-old to meet all his daily requirement of NVE from a single food, he would need to consume an equivalent of 1.5 cups of spinach or 2.5 cups of chopped, boiled broccoli in a day.
On food packaging and labels, NVE is commonly listed as “RRR-alpha-tocopherol” or “d-alpha tocopherol”. The synthetic forms are usually listed as “all-rac-α-tocopherol” or “dl-alpha tocopherol”.
Interview with Dr. Kuchan
Finally, we had a very insightful one-on-one chat with Dr Kuchan. Here is what we discussed:
- So, is it true that a baby’s brain is constantly looking for NVE?
Both forms of Vitamin E are there in the infant brain, but the natural form is more. The natural form is always preferred by the baby’s brain. My team’s interpretation is that Nature knows Best. But from a pure vitamin E perspective, either source is sufficient and approved.
- Since breast milk is rich in NVE , does it in a way imply that breast milk fed instants will turn out smarter?
On the one hand there is a significant amount of literature that says that brain development in breast fed infants is better. It’s one of the reasons that it’s the gold standard. However it is important to remember there are many, many reasons for that. Nutrients in breast milk is just one of the factors. Even the interaction between mother and child is important, and also a lot of factors like say, the mother’s education.
- Is cow’s milk also a good source of Natural Vitamin E?
Literature suggests that all the mammals tend to put NVE in their milk. The extent varies though. Cow milk does contain NVE preferentially; however it is important to remember that there are other foods that contain vitamin E, which infants can eat easily. Because of how cow’s milk is processed, fat is taken out, and, most of the NVE goes with the fat. It is there but it’s lower than in nuts and leafy greens.
- Can NVE help in improving a child’s eyesight?
My belief is that when the visual cortex prefers NVE so much, there must be a reason for it. The eye also actually accumulates Vitamin E. The cells which receive light in the retina (in the eye) have a high concentration of DHA. The metabolic activity in the eye is extremely high since our eyes are always seeing. Vitamin E has an impact in protecting DHA, although this is difficult to prove in the eyes.
Lutein is also important for the eyes. At the very centre of the retina called the macula, only found in humans and higher primates, lutein has an extremely high concentration. We hope to research on whether lutein can actually improve the development of this centre because it is the part which gives us precision sight.
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So the next time you buy packaged food, read those labels properly and look out for Natural Vitamin E (“RRR-alpha-tocopherol” or “d-alpha tocopherol”). And don’t forget to include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds in your child’s diet. NVE is likely a part of the magic cocktail of nutrients that your baby needs for his rapidly developing brain.
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