Food and Behaviour Research

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A Vitamin on the Mind: New Discoveries on Control of the Brain by Vitamin A.

Stoney PN, McCaffery P. (2016) World Rev Nutr Diet. 115 98-108. doi: 10.1159/000442076. Epub 2016 May 19. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here.


Vitamin A is essential for many physiological processes and is particularly crucial during early life, when vitamin A deficiency increases mortality through elevated rates of infection.

This deadly aspect of vitamin A deficiency masks other effects that, while not lethal, may nevertheless cause significant issues if vitamin A insufficiency reoccurs during later childhood or in the adult.

One such effect is on the brain. Vitamin A is essential for several regions of the brain, and this chapter focuses on two regions: the hippocampus, needed for learning and memory, and the hypothalamus, necessary to maintain the body's internal physiological balance.

Vitamin A, through its active metabolite retinoic acid, is required to support neuroplasticity in the hippocampus, and vitamin A deficiency has a dramatic effect on depressing learning and memory.

The effects of vitamin A deficiency on the hypothalamus may lead to depression of appetite and growth. Much of this research has relied on animal studies, and it will be essential in the future to determine the full role of vitamin A in the human brain.

© 2016 S. Karger AG, Basel.


Vitamin A has long been known to be critical for vision (as well as for immune system functioning), but this new review focuses on and summarises the increasing evidence for its importance in the development and functioning of brain areas important in learning, memory and sleep, among other things.

As the authors emphasise, the current evidence in this area derives mainly from animal studies, but research to investigate Vitamin A's potential effects in humans on learning and memory, sleep-wake cycles and other aspect of brain function are clearly warranted.

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