Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763

B vital vitamin for vegetarian mothers

By Christine Suh | (UPI) Vegetarian mothers who breastfeed their infants should make sure vitamin B12, found naturally only in animal products, is in their diet, a report released yesterday concludes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly report on morbidity and mortality describes two cases in Georgia where infants breastfed by their vegetarian mothers developed neurologic impairments due to a lack of the essential vitamin, also known as cobalamin.

Maria Jefferds, epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC, said the two children in the report were lethargic and had a "failure to thrive." Too little vitamin B12 in children can result in delayed speech and motor development, she added.

Jefferds said she did not know how widespread the deficiency is but she did not think it was common in the United States.

Dr. Dennis Bier, director of the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, agreed, saying it is a "relatively small and isolated problem."

A vegetarian lifestyle "is a healthy lifestyle if a person pays attention to diet," Bier noted.

In the second case described, the mother reported occasionally taking TwinLab Stress B Complex Caps, a vitamin supplement that, according to the label, contains 250 mcg of "cobalamin concentrate."

Bier, however, said he does not know what "cobalamin concentrate" means.

To ensure that people who do not eat meat or dairy products get the nutrition they need, Bier suggested they supplement their diets with products that have active B12. If "vitamin B12" or "cobalamin" is on a product label, this should indicate the active vitamin is an ingredient, he noted.

"It takes very little B12" to avoid a deficiency, Bier commented. Vegetarians who consume milk, cheese and other dairy foods are already getting cobalamin, Bier said.

The CDC report said the recommended daily intake for pregnant women between 14 and 50 is 2.6 micrograms and 2.8 for lactating women in the same age range. Bier commented that vegetarian mothers could easily get this small amount through fortified products such as cereals.

Some cases of neurologic impairment are irreversible, the severity depending on how long a person lacks B12, Jefferds noted. However, the two children in the Georgia study received treatment for cobalamin deficiency and responded well, she said.

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