Vegan diet may increase risk of birth defects

A diet lacking in vitamin B12 is harmful, research suggests

Pregnant woman who are strict vegetarians or vegans may be at greater risk of having a child with birth defects, researchers warned.

They are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 – found in meat, eggs and milk – which increases the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, which causes partial paralysis, and anencephaly where the brain does not develop and is normally fatal shortly after birth.

A team from the National Institutes of Health, Trinity College Dublin, and the Health Research Board of Ireland found women with low levels of B12 were 2.5 to three times more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect while those classed as deficient in B12 were five times more likely to have a child with a defect.

Women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements because it is known that the vitamin folate protects against these defects and it has been suggested that taking vitamin B12 may reduce the risk further.

In America all women of childbearing age are recommended to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to ensure they have sufficient levels if they fall pregnant unintentionally.

Dr James Mills, senior investigator in the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research, in America, said it would be wise for women to do the same with B12. ‘Our results offer evidence that women who have adequate B12 levels before they become pregnant may further reduce the occurrence of this class of birth defects,’ he said.

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