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Did a Vegan Diet Kill This Baby?

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be life-threatening.

August 25, 2011 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Leonard John Matthew and Georges Charrières.

Transcript

 Vegan couple whose baby died of vitamin deficiency after being fed solely on breast milk. Uh, isn’t that what you’re supposed to feed babies? Yes, but if you’re not getting enough vitamin B12, then your baby’s not getting enough B12

Parents adopted lifestyle after watching TV programme about butchered cows, and ended up  generating headlines like this:  Vegans charged with death… neglect… and baby killing. Poll: did a vegan diet kill the baby. Why, yes it did. A non-B12 fortified vegan diet killed that little girl, and she’s not the first and if vegans don’t get their act together she will not be the last.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Check out my blog post Vegan B12 Deficiency: Putting It into Perspective to put this terrible tragedy into context.

Tomorrow's video-of-the-day will address how commonly vegans in the United States place their infants at risk by failing to supplement their diet with vitamin B12 based on studies published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics and the Journal of the AMA.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Check out my blog post Vegan B12 Deficiency: Putting It into Perspective to put this terrible tragedy into context. Tomorrow‘s video-of-the-day will address how commonly vegans in the United States place their infants at risk by failing to supplement their diet with vitamin B12 based on studies published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics and the Journal of the AMA.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/DamianRowe/ Damian Rowe

    Dear Dr. Greger, I sincerely appreciate this website! That said, I have one constructive comment.

    Let’s not say that a vegan diet killed the baby, please; rather, let’s put into the headline that a vitamin (vital amine) deficient diet killed the baby. There are plenty of vegans who know the inherent risk of lacking such vital amines in their diet, and, as you state in another post, there are plenty of vegan-congruent ways to attain plenty of these essential nutrients. Rather than scare well intentioned people away from a vegan diet, let’s proffer the true information.

    Sincerely, Damian Rowe (vegan-inspired, non-vegan)

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I appreciate your comment. Sadly, the true information is that most vegans apparently aren’t supplementing (I’ll cover this in my video on Saturday). It’s not enough that “plenty” of vegans know about the importance of B12; all vegans need to know. Please help me spread the word!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/msadventuress/ MsAdventuress

    A vitamin deficient diet absolutely has consequences for all involved.

    Dr. Gabriel Cousens wrote an interesting article about the vegan/meat-eater diet deficiencies.

    I wonder how many parents (male and female) are tested for vitamin/mineral deficiencies before they conceive, regardless of their diet. I can’t help but think we’re dealing with possible preventable issues, at every level of development, due to this, but we don’t yet know the full spectrum of it.

    I was severely deficient in B12 (and other vits/mins) while still eating an animal-based diet (due to undiagnosed celiac and other autoimmune issues). But I didn’t know it. I shudder to think what would have happened, had I had children.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/veguyan/ Veguyan

      Dr. Cousens recommends D3. Is that a vegan supplement?

      Gabriel also recommends Spirulina and Chlorella for plant protein. Now Dr. Greger tells us these things are hepatotoxic, etc. What’s one to do?

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/msadventuress/ MsAdventuress

        I was just noting the article because of the interesting comparison of deficiencies on both sides (I didn’t know Dr. Greger already had a video on it).

        I try to stay away from supplements (except B12). I get my vits/mins from eating whole food. I get my Vitamin D from sunshine.

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/msadventuress/ MsAdventuress

          Well, I’m “trying” to get my Vit D from sunshine. My levels are being monitored, so we’ll see.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/msadventuress/ MsAdventuress

        Oh my goodness, I just watched Dr. Greger’s spirulina videos. I wondered about it, but I assumed if you purchased what you assumed to be a high quality product (Spirulina Manna), there wouldn’t be risk. Wow. I can’t say I want to test that theory out (anymore).

        This site is great.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

        There are lots of wonderful sources of protein (legumes) that don’t have such toxins. Dr. Cousens just may not be aware of the latest research--I certainly wasn’t!

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/cyclo/ Cyclo

        Hey Veguyan!

        Vitamin D3 is most often from animal origin.
        But there seems to be one product on the market that is true Vegan Vitamin D3 (even approved by the vegan society, yey!):

        http://www.vitashine-d3.com/

        I came across this site by following an discussion on Jack Norris RD page: http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=1050

        Otherwise, you have Vitamin D2, which is the vegan version of Vitamin D. However, there seems to be very mixed opinions and scientific studies about it’s effectiveness compared to Vitamin D3.

        Vitamin D2 is a “synthetic” version of Vitamin D, and Vitamin D3 is identical to the Vitamin D that is produced in your body when you expose your skin to the sun.

        However, Vitamin D2 seems to be working just fine even though it’s not “natural”, after all, it has been used for treating Vitamin D deficiency for a very long time. :)

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

          Taken daily at the doses I tend to recommend, D2 is equivalent to D3, so I’d suggest just getting whichever is cheaper. Given new findings (which I’ll profile soon in a new video), my new recommendation for those not getting enough from sun is 2000iu a day.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      If you’re interested, I have a video similar to Dr. Cousen’s article: Omnivore vs. Vegan Nutrient Deficiencies.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/msadventuress/ MsAdventuress

        Love it, Dr, Greger, thank you! I’m adding these resources of yours to my plant-based wellness page. It helps so much to see it all laid out, side-by-side.

        And I was thinking…it would be something if the parents of FAS/drug babies were held as accountable as the parents who were B12 deficient. ♥

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lbateman/ lbateman

    Critical prevention education, Dr. Greger: thank you.
    Perhaps we could make the handout easy to get to, and put together a pre,during,post-baby prevention diet guide for each type of diet being consumed out there.

    I am a Clinical Nurse Specialist, nicknamed Earth Mother, out to prevent so much tragedy and suffering going on unnecessarily. lb.swic@gmail.com

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      A noble venture! For those who choose to eat vegan I would recommend Norris and Messina’s book Vegan for Life.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LisaO'Neill/ Lisa O\’Neill

    I find it hard to believe a woman could be B12 deficient enough to cause her breast-fed infant’s death, without suffering some symptoms significant to cause her to seek medical attention. The story just somehow doesn’t sit right.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Always good to be skeptical about everything! What you may not be taking into account in your thinking, though, is how good our liver is at storing the vitamin. So after this mother decided to cut animals from her diet she still had some stored up (adults typically keep about 2 or 3,000 on board). But her baby didn’t have the luxury of starting out with that much. Infants usually only get come out with about 25 mcg, just enough to last for a few weeks. Normally, colostrum (a mother’s first milk) is packed with B12, but in someone without much B12 to give, the infant is particularly susceptible with potentially devastating consequences. Does that make sense?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/LisaO'Neill/ Lisa O\’Neill

    Well, yes, but if the mother was already vegan when the infant was born, you’d think her obstetrician would have caught this. Of course I don’t know the details of this particular case. Certainly a tragedy and something to be learned from. Thanks for the education, it’s very much appreciated.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      When I speak at hospitals and medical schools it’s definitely something I cover. As plant-based diets continue to get more popular it’s important for the medical community to to educate itself (before they’re all put out of business by people eating healthy diets! :).

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/PeterHeeks/ Peter Heeks

    I’m so glad you covered this video, my vegan friends ignore the important of B12 and do not eat fortified foods and advise other people it is not necessary, in an attempt to show the superiority of the vegan diet and avoid/ignore any considerations vegans need to make. Same with omega 3 etc, they are convinced natural is best, I’m sure, but let’s not waste the tremendous knowledge we have learnt and an opportunity to make the most of our vegan diets!

    The health benefits of the vegan diet are covered in abundance across your other articles, it is important for vegans to be aware of their own requirements in order to achieve optimal health, and stop the meat-eaters avoiding the vegan diet for the wrong reasons, or converts going back to meat when their doctors tell them they aren’t getting enough B12. The last thing we need is vegans ignoring their few ‘pitfalls’ and counteracting all the benefits of our superior diets :-)

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Could not have said it better myself–I hope you come back and contribute often!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/RobertEdmands/ Robert Edmands

    Ouch! Humans have not evolved to ignore animal protein 100%. They have been called “hunter gatherers” for a reason. Cyanocobalamin. I remember seeing this stuff in its pure form. I’m still reducing my meat consumption though!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Vegan B12 deficiency: putting it into perspective!

  • becky

    Ok… so let’s suppose I have a tooth against taking ‘medicated’ food AND I’m a vegan. mostly raw. what DO I eat? Yeast? What kind of yeast? Where do I get it?
    I know lots and lots of people who lived in the countryside, never or almost never had animal products and lived a happy healthy long life. Not to mention hundreds of monks that live on almost nothing… again, happy, healthy long lives.
    Is there something that doctors or biochemists don’t know? Or something they do know, but keep away, to sell ‘supplements’, now that more and more people refuse medication? I mean.. if these were isolated cases, I would’ve said it’s ok. But hundreds and thousands of people doing that.. is not just an exception, is it?
    Thanks for your time!
    I really, really appreciate this website. Makes more sense than others.

  • Aubrianne

    how to speak to my doctor about no vaccination to my baby or me

  • Kristen

    I am a breastfeeding mama. How much B12 should I be taking to make sure I get enough for me and baby?