Women in India, where vegetarian diets predominate, are at an increased risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy, which can increase their risk of preterm birth, a new study (conducted by researchers at Norwegian University of Science and Technology – NTNU) has warned.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for the body’s vital functions, including the production of red blood cells. B12 deficiency can cause anaemia and damage to the nervous system.
Human body cannot produce the vitamin by itself. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin such as meat, milk and eggs.
Vegetarians are likely to have vitamin B12 deficiency, as opposed to those who eat high levels of animal products.
“In countries where vegetarian diets predominate, such as in India, the percentage of pregnant women with B12 deficiency can exceed two thirds. We did find that vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy was associated with a 21 per cent increased risk of giving birth prematurely,” said Tormod Rogne, a medical doctor and intern at Akershus University Hospital in Norway.
The diet of a pregnant woman is extremely important for her baby during pregnancy. Globally, low birth weight and preterm births cause half of all infant deaths in the first one month after birth.
Pregnant women who consume less of animal-derived foods may have vitamin B12 deficiency.
So can vitamin B12 supplements help?
“Although we found that vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, we know very little about the effects of taking vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy,” added Rogne.