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Lactating Mothers on a Vegan Diet Provide Sufficient Vitamin B2 and Carnitine for Infants

From David Hoey, 80sPopAnimals.com
May 2023

These results suggest that a vegan diet in lactating mothers is not a risk for the development of a vitamin B2 or carnitine deficiency in breastfed infants.

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A new study (Vegan mothers' breastmilk contains two important nutrients) from the Amsterdam University Medical Center’s Reproduction and Development research institute (Amsterdam Reproduction & Development) reveals that vegan mothers may breastfeed their infants without concern about breastmilk deficiencies of two essential nutrients for a newborn’s growth.

The study compared the concentrations of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and carnitine in maternal breastmilk from lactating mothers who observe a vegan diet versus those who observe an omnivorous diet. This research indicates that there is no difference in the human milk concentrations of vitamin B2 or carnitine, which have high concentrations in animal products. Previous studies have suggested that some lactating mothers should increase their consumption of animal products in order to avoid deficiencies in these key nutrients.

Vitamin B2 plays a critical role in nutrient metabolism, digestion, cell membrane integrity, and the function of several enzymes that are required for the development of proper biological pathways. Previous research (Riboflavin Deficiency) suggests that insufficient levels of vitamin B2 may lead to anemia and neurological problems in infants. Vegan sources of vitamin B2 include quinoa, avocado, almonds, wild rice, mushrooms, and nutritional yeast.

Carnitine’s primary function involves energy production and metabolism. An infant with insufficient carnitine may develop low blood sugar and problems in both the heart and brain. Previous research (Carnitine Deficiency) indicates that a shortage of carnitine in infants can cause these serious complications. Vegan sources of carnitine include quinoa, legumes (lentils, beans, and peas), asparagus, almonds, and whole wheat.

The present study employed a technique that separates a breastmilk sample into its component parts in order to accurately measure their mass. While the results did reveal lower levels of serum-free carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine in the mothers consuming a vegan diet, there were no discernible differences in the carnitine concentrations in the breastmilk when compared to those of the mothers consuming diets that include animal products.

The researchers state that the study challenges the idea that a vegan diet is not nutritionally complete. This study supports the conclusion of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the largest organization of healthcare professionals in the world), which states that a vegan diet is “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.” (Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets)

Lead researcher Dr. Hannah Juncker explained, “With the rise of vegan diets worldwide, also by lactating mothers, there are concerns about the nutritional adequacy of their milk. Therefore, it would be important to know if the milk concentrations of those nutrients are different in lactating women consuming a vegan diet.” She further stated, “The results of our study suggest that vitamin B2 and carnitine concentrations in human milk are not influenced by the consumption of a vegan diet. These results suggest that a vegan diet in lactating mothers is not a risk for the development of a vitamin B2 or carnitine deficiency in breastfed infants. This information is useful for breastfeeding mothers and also for donor human milk banks, which collect milk for provision to premature infants who do not receive sufficient mother’s own milk.”

The research findings were presented at the 55th annual meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) (ESPGHAN 2023 Annual Meeting Highlights) in Vienna on May 17, 2023. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until peer review and publication in a reputable scientific journal.

SOURCE: Amsterdam University Medical Center, news release, May 17, 2023

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