Study finds link between vitamin B12 deficiency and preterm birth

Photo (c) gustavofrazao - Fotolia

Vegans are especially vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency, researchers say

As we previously reported, moms-to-be don’t necessarily have to include flesh foods in their diet in order for it to be considered “healthful and nutritionally adequate” by experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

When meals are balanced and appropriately planned, plant-based eating habits can even impart health benefits. However, some important nutrients -- such as vitamin B-12 -- can be harder to come by for individuals who avoid meat, eggs, and dairy.

Now, a new study finds that not eating enough food from animal sources may contribute to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which could raise a woman’s risk of having a premature baby by 21%.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at levels of vitamin B12 in more than 11,000 expectant mothers from 11 countries and found that low levels of vitamin B12 are associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Vegans at risk

While low levels of vitamin B12 did not appear to affect the baby’s birth weight, the authors found that having a B12 deficiency did appear to raise a woman’s risk of giving birth prior to 37 weeks.

Income levels were also accounted for in the study, but the results were the same regardless of whether the country had a high, middle, or low income.

“Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin, such as meat, milk and eggs,” said study author Dr. Tormod Rogne in a statement. “Pregnant women who consume too few animal-derived foods increase their risk of developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency.”

Other explanations

Rogne and his colleagues noted that there may be other explanations for the link, including the fact those with a B12 deficiency may be malnourished in general while pregnant. The team also said that there has been little research on the effect of taking vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy. 

Vegetarians aren’t as likely to have a B12 deficiency because they consume dairy products or eggs, explained information officer Paul W. Thorbjörnsen from the Norwegian Vegetarian Association.

However, because the body cannot produce this important vitamin itself, he advises vegans to “consume B12 by drinking products such as soy milk or rice milk with added B12" or to take vitamin supplements."

The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Find a Medical Alert System partner near you.