New Moms
New Moms

Can a Vegetarian Diet Cause Birth Defects?

| by Gary L Francione

I read an article in today’s Telegraph, a British newspaper. The title of the article is Vegan diet increases the risk of birth defects, scientists warn. The subtitle of the article is: “Women who are strict vegetarians or vegans may be a greater risk of having a child with birth defects because they are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12, researchers warned.” The article discusses a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

But apart from the title and subtitle of the article, there is no further mention of veganism or vegetarianism.

So I went my university library site to download the article but it was not yet available as the issue in which the article appears has just come out. But I was able to find the abstract of the article on line.

Interestingly, the abstract does not even contain the word “vegan” or “vegetarian.” The words “vegan” and “vegetarian” do not appear in the list of key words describing the author.

We will have to wait to see what the actual article says but unless the authors did a poor job describing their article in the abstract (and that may well be the case), it appears as though the study only shows a correlation between low B-12 levels and certain birth defects and does not focus on vegan diets and B-12.

As a general matter, and as the Telegraph article states, women are advised to ensure that folate levels are adequate during pregnancy to protect against these birth defects. The journal article does not appear to be an indictment of a vegan diet; rather, it appears to make the claim that adequate levels of B-12 may further reduce the risk of these birth defects.

All vegans know (or should know) to be careful about ensuring adequate B-12. This can be done in myriad ways, including eating certain foods that have or that are enriched with B-12. Women who are pregnant, whether they are vegan or not, have to be conscientious about their folate levels and, if this study is correct, about their B-12 levels.

Vegans need to be concerned about ensuring that they get their B-12 from their plant sources just as eaters of animal products have to make sure that they get an adequate supply from flesh sources. It is, however, irresponsible to suggest in any case that vegan diets are correlated with birth defects.

It is inadequate nutrition and not a vegan diet that is correlated with birth defects.