A group of researchers from Tel Aviv University - in Tel Aviv's posh north, and Tel Aviv being the self-proclaimed vegan capital of the world after all - have conducted the world's first study on vitamin B12 in vegan women's umbilical cords. The study included pregnant women with different dietary patterns, including "omnivorous", pescatarian, ovo-lacto-vegetarian as well as vegan women (vegan women: n = 60). After the babies were born (not all at the same time, of course), the researchers measured the vitamin B12 concentration as well as the ferritin (storage iron) concentration in each of the umbilical cords.
Umbilical cords are quite an uncommon research medium in nutrient studies, and they are very interesting because they are the basically tube that connects the foetus to the uterus, the tube that transports all the nutrients from the mother to the unborn.
The vegan women in this study had been vegan for at least 3 months prior to the beginning of the pregnancy.
Anyway, the study showed that there "were no significant differences in the maternal [blood] B12 levels between the study groups (P = 0.426)." This means that luckily most of the vegan women made sure to consume adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from supplements and/or fortified foods.
But what about the B12 in the umbilical cords? "There were no significant differences in the umbilical cord B12 [...] levels between the [different dietary] groups." This again, shows the same thing: Most of the vegan women did the smart thing and consumed enough vitamin B12. Mazel tov!
However, 3 of the 60 vegan women (= 5%) were classified as having umbilical cord vitamin B12 deficiency, which likely means that these 3 women did NOT consume enough vitamin B12. When looking at the mother's vitamin B12 blood levels 11 of the 60 vegan women (= 18%) had a vitamin B12 deficiency (defined here as: plasma B12 < 200 pg/ml). That means that almost one of five of the vegan women were likely not well-informed about the need to supplement vitamin B12. This again indicates that all organizations and individuals who promote veganism and/or a vegan diet should provide adequate (science-based) vegan nutrition information (and not keep vitamin B12 a secret).
[Recommendation: Pregnant and breastfeeding vegan women should ideally consume a daily vitamin B12 supplement of at least 10 µg per day.]
Regarding iron status, the study showed that the vegan women "had lower [.] ferritin [blood] levels compared to pescatarians [...], but not compared to vegetarians [...], or omnivores [...]." What about the ferritin in the umbilical cords? "There were no significant differences in the umbilical cord [..] ferritin, and hemoglobin levels between the study groups."
The ferritin levels in the vegan women were in the normal range. Not having very high ferritin is probably a good thing, because high ferritin levels are associated with damage to the arteries and an increased risk of bad stuff, including heart attacks.
And ... not really surprising:
"A sub-analysis that compared women who consumed multivitamins, B12 and iron supplements during pregnancy to women who did not, revealed differences in the levels of umbilical-cord B12
(1002 [..] vs 442 [..] pg/ml, respectively [...]) and maternal blood B12 (388 [..] vs 219 [..] pg/ml, respectively [...]), only among vegans.
Again, what this means is that vegan pregnant women should really really really take a daily vitamin B12 supplement.
The researchers' conclusion:
A "Vegan diet does not change the umbilical cord levels of B12, folic acid, ferritin, and hemoglobin. Vegans who do not take any vitamin supplementation are at greater risk for B12 deficiency than omnivores."
Take home messages:
"The transport of B12 to the fetus is diminished in women with low levels of B12."
"[...] vegans who do not consume [B12] supplements have lower maternal and umbilical [B12] blood levels." And this is dangerous for the baby.
"We, therefore, recommend that the B12 levels of pregnant vegan women should be monitored and that these women should be encouraged to take vitamin [B12] supplementation."
P.S.: Science-based vegan nutrition information is an animal rights issue, too. I would appreciate it if the animal rights movement woke up to this - although I have no illusions about this happening.
Vegan babies with brain damage aren't a good advertisement for animal liberation. Vegans (and all other humans) are animals too - vegans have a right to adequate nutrition information, and a right not to be lied to about nutrition. Vegan parents in prison for "starving" their children is not a good thing either.
Take home message for Israel:
Israel has a long history of veganism, and a gruesome history of dead vegan babies in the vegan religious community African Hebrew Israelites. Don't let history repeat itself. And allow me to say: Never again.
Avnon et al. Does vegan diet influence umbilical cord vitamin B12, folate, and ferritin levels?
Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2020 Apr 28. doi: 10.1007/s00404-020-05561-y . [Epub ahead of print]