Vegetarians are vitamin B12 deficient

Published on: Modified on:

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. It is generally assumed that vitamin B12 deficiencies are rare among people consuming a varied diet. However, there is some question whether vegetarians get enough B12 as it is not present in plants. Researchers at the Sydney Adventist Hospital have just completed a study aimed at resolving this question. Their study involved 245 Adventist ministers who were either lactoovovegetarians or vegans. The average age of the ministers was 46 years (range 22 to 80 years) and most of them had been vegetarians for over 20 years. The study participants filled out a diet questionnaire and had a fasting blood sample drawn for a 20-test biochemical profile including vitamin B12 concentrations. The mean vitamin B12 level was 199 pmol/L and 73 per cent of the ministers had a level below the recommended lower limit of 221 pmol/L. Vitamin B12 concentrations were also measured in a control group of 53 ministers who consumed fish, poultry or red meat on a regular basis. In this group 40 per cent had vitamin B12 concentrations below the recommended lower limit; this indicates that vitamin B12 deficiency is widespread even among non-vegetarians.

Additional tests showed that the vitamin B12 deficiencies observed among lactoovovegetarians were due to dietary deficiencies rather than to malabsorption. The researchers conclude that as many as 73 per cent of Australian vegetarians are vitamin B12 deficient and recommend that they increase their intake either from vitamin B12-containing foods (animal products), from supplements or from vitamin B12- fortified foods.

Hokin, Bevan D. and Butler, Terry. Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) status in Seventh-day Adventist ministers in Australia. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, September 1999, pp. 576S- 78S