Long-term ovo-lacto vegetarian diet impairs vitamin B-12 status in pregnant women

C. Koebnick*, I. Hoffmann, P.C. Dagnelie, U.A. Heins, S.N. Wickramasinghe, I.D. Ratnayaka, S. Gruendel, J. Lindemans, C. Leitzmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A well-planned vegetarian diet has been stated to be adequate during pregnancy. The aim of the present study was to compare serum vitamin B-12 and homocysteine concentrations in pregnant women (n = 109) consuming vegetarian and Western diets and to evaluate the adequacy of current dietary reference intakes of vitamin B-12 for these women. Pregnant women adhering to vegetarian diets for at least 3 y, with subgroups of ovo-lacto vegetarians (OLVs; n = 27), low-meat eaters (LME, n = 43), and women eating an average Western diet (control group, n = 39), were recruited. Dietary vitamin B-12 intake, serum vitamin B-12, and plasma total homocysteine (tHcy) concentrations were measured in wk 9-12, 20-22, and 36-38 of pregnancy. During pregnancy serum vitamin B-12 concentrations of ovo-lacto vegetarians (P < 0.001) and low-meat eaters (P = 0.050) were lower than those of the control group. We observed the combination of low serum vitamin B-12 concentrations and elevated plasma tHcy in 22% of ovo-lacto vegetarians, in 10% of low-meat eaters, and in 3% of controls (P = 0.003). In OLVs, serum vitamin B-12 predicted 60% of the plasma tHcy variation (P < 0.001), but in LMEs and controls only <10% (NS). Serum vitamin B-12 concentrations increased and plasma tHcy decreased sharply with increasing dietary intake of vitamin B-12 toward a cutoff point of 3 mug/d. Pregnant women consuming a long-term predominantly vegetarian diet have an increased risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency. Current recommended dietary intakes urgently need reevaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3319-3326
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


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