Today I read an article entitled “Baby Breastfed by Vegan Mother Dies”. (http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/baby-breastfed-by-vegan-mother-dies/) The poor baby died from vitamin B12, and vitamin A deficiency The parents have been sentenced to 5 years in jail due to neglect and abuse, and the article goes on to say, “While I’m not sure I favor charging the parents in this tragedy as it smacks of Big Brother far too much for my comfort level, it does communicate a clear message to other vegans: abstinence from all animal foods is a danger to one’s health and most particularly, your baby!” The comments following the article are a mix of agreements and dismay at the lack of education in the vegan diet.
There are a couple misconceptions about vitamin B12. First of all, the fact is that it is not naturally forming in ANY food, whether it be plant based or animal based. B12 is actually a bacteria, produced by microorganisms.
“B12 synthesis is known to occur naturally in the human small intestine (in the ileum), which is the primary site of B12 absorption. As long as gut bacteria have cobalt and certain other nutrients, they produce vitamin B12. Dr Michael Klaper argues that vitamin B12 is present in the mouth as well and intestines. Furthermore, Dr Virginia Vetrano states that active Vitamin B12 coenzymes are found in bacteria in the mouth, around the teeth, in the nasopharynx, around the tonsils and in the tonsilar crypts, in the folds at the base of the tongue, and in the upper bronchial tree. Absorption of the natural B12 coenzymes can take place in the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bronchial tubes and even in the upper small intestines, as well as all along the intestinal tract. This does not involve the complex enzyme mechanism for absorption (Intrinsic Factor) in the small intestine as required by cyanocobalamin. The coenzymes are absorbed by diffusion from mucous membranes….External B12 coming into the body must be combined with a mucoprotein enzyme named Intrinsic Factor, which is normally present in gastric secretions, to be properly assimilated. If the Intrinsic Factor is impaired or absent, B12 synthesis will not take place, no matter how much is present in the diet. A B12 deficiency can be caused by antibiotics (from the drugs themselves and contained in milk and meat), alcohol (alcohol damages the liver, so drinkers need more B12) and smoking (and all high temp cooked food is smoky) and stress also raises B12 needs).” (Taken from http://www.vibrancyuk.com/B12.html)
So the problem really is our digestive tracts not having the proper gut flora available to properly assimilate and produce vitamin B12, not that we are not eating enough. The article quoted above goes on to say,
“…that the real problem in so-called B12 deficiency is a failure of digestion and absorption of foods, rather than a deficiency of the vitamin itself…vitamin B12 co-enzymes are found in nuts and seeds as well as in many common greens, fruits, and many vegetables. If we ate 100 grams of green beans, beets, carrots, and peas we would have half of our so-called daily minimum requirement of Vitamin B12 co-enzymes providing our digestion and absorption are normal.”
B12 is actually part of a larger array of vitamins called the B complex vitamins, which include riboflavin, and other B vitamins, which usually all appear in the same food.
B12 deficiency can be seen by fatigue, paleness in color, confusion, paranoia, weight loss, anemia, and respiratory problems. Because many of our foods these days are lacking in nutrients, either because of the use of pesticides, or the soil being depleted of minerals in the first place, taking a supplement is always a good idea while pregnant and breastfeeding, however nutritional yeast is also a great way to get vitamin B12 into your diet. Being deficient in this nutrient is fatal, and if the baby in the beginning article died from this problem, it was not from neglect but lack of education on the parents part, because this means that that mother was not taking in any B12 at all either. The baby also died of vitamin A, which means the mother was not eating Kale, or broccoli or carrots, or sweet potatoes, or lettuce…in fact there are so many foods that she must have NOT been eating that I’d really like to know exactly what she DID eat. If it was a diet full of soda and vegan processed foods, then this is not a vegan problem, but a problem of society as a whole. This could have happened to any baby, vegan parents or not.
Another issue that is a red flag for the parents ignorance is that fact that the baby was still only breastfeeding at 11 months of age. Any baby who is nearly a year old should be eating solid foods to keep up with the calorie needs. Even if the parents had only included a fortified cereal, the baby would have been getting enough vitamin B12 to thrive.
While some may argue that a vegan diet is not natural because one must take supplements to fulfill all of our daily intakes, this is simply not true. As I’ve stated, as long as the gut is healthy, there is no need to take supplements. (And I do not consider nutritional yeast a supplement, it is my parmigiana cheese replacement and salad topper.) Consuming meat and dairy has been proven to lead to many diseases and health problems, and while I do understand that diet is a very personal choice, I find it very offensive that any diet would be called unnatural. What makes us human is our ability to choose freely how we live our lives. Of course, with that freedom comes responsibility. We must educate ourselves before making any major decisions, especially when it comes to our diet. My education has lead me to chose a vegan life, not only for ethical reasons, but for health as well.
I feel very bad for the parents who are not only dealing with the loss of their child, but also the abuse of the world looking in on their tragedy. Eating meat is not the only way to eat. It is not even the best way. And many vegan parents have raised strong, healthy children while breastfeeding. This was not a vegan issue, but an education issue, an issue with society, not an issue with a person. Neglect is when you lock your child in the closet, not when you don’t know any better about nutrition.
- Nutritional Support for Vegetarians (purevitamins.com.au)
- B12-vitamin Deficiency Can Be Fatal (vitaviva-blogging.com)