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Vegan moms need to take Vitamin B12 supplements, study suggests

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Sunday Oct 11, 2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- A new case report suggests that vegan mothers who breastfeed their babies should take some vitamin B12 supplements.

The report, published in the Sept. 10 issue of Archives of Pediatrics,  involved a 10-month old baby who was found to be vitamin B deficient with  pervasive developmental disorders and hematocytopenia, abnormally low red blood cell count.

A. Mariani and colleagues, from Centre Hospitalo-Universitaire Arnaud-de-Villeneuve in France, authors of the report, also found that the infant suffered vitamin K and vitamin D deficiencies.

The same vitamin deficiencies were also found in the mother, according to the authors.

By using vitamin supplementation, the deficiencies were corrected and the biological disorders were normalized. The infant also gained weight and showed improvement in neurological symptoms.

Vegans do not eat any animal-based foods while vitamin B12 can only be found in such foods. Vegans are at high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, said the researchers, which affects a series of biological functions.

Mariani and colleagues say in their article that "a vegan diet during pregnancy followed by exclusive breast-feeding can induce nutritional deficiencies in the newborn with clinical consequences."

While vegans are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, they are not at risk for deficiency of other nutrients if they use a balanced diet. According to Dr. T. Collin Campbell, a nutritionist at Cornell University, a vegan diet excluding animal-based foods can provide a whole spectrum of nutrients for the body's needs.

He says in his book China Study that plant-based foods actually provide more nutrients than animal-based foods, such as minerals, essential fatty acids and other nutrients.

Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is more commonly found in elderly people, can be caused by a number of health conditions including an autoimmune condition known as pernicious anemia, food-bound vitamin 12 malabsorption, and atrophic gastritis, among others.

There are some signs that can indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency. Those  symptoms include megaloblastic anemia, neurological symptoms such as numbness and tingling of the arms and the legs, difficult walking, memory loss, disorientation and dementia and gastrointestinal symptoms such as tongue soreness, appetite loss and constipation.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 0.4 mcg per day for infants ages 0-6 months, 0.5 for infant ages 7 to 12 months, 0.9 for children ages 1 to 3 years, 1.2 for chilren ages 4 to 8 years, 1.8 for children ages 9 to 13, 2.4 for adolescents and adults ages 14 or older. The RDA is 2.6 mcg per day for pregnant women and 2.8 for breast-feeding women at all ages.

Foods high in vitamin B12 include clams, mussels, crab, salmon, rock-fish, beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, milk and brie cheese in descending order. Clams have 84 mcg of vitamin B12 per 3 ounces while milk contains only 0.9 mcg of this nutrient per 8 ounces.

The principal form of vitamin B12 used in nutrition supplements in multivitamin, prenatal vitamin, vitamin B-complex and vitamin B12 supplements is cyanocobalamin.

Infants who are exclusively breastfed and did not receive vitamin D supplements are at high risk of vitamin d deficiency particularly if they have dark skin or receive little exposure to sun. The consequences of this nutrition deficiency is impaired brain development as recent studies have discovered. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants should be given a vitamin d supplement of 400 IU per day.

Foods high in vitamin D are only a few including fatty fish and eggs. Sun exposure is the major source of this vitamin for many people while vitamin D supplements are for everyone's needs.

Vitamin K deficiency can occur in infants such as newborn babies who are exclusively breast-fed because human milk is relatively low in vitamin K.

Foods high in vitamin K include kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions, dandelion greens and others in descending order.

By David Liu davidl at foodconsumer dot org and edited by Sheilah Downey sheilahd at foodconsumer dot org



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