B12 Deficiency in a Vegan: Some Progress?

I do not take this lightly. A 7-year-old vegan boy from San Diego was found to have vitamin B12 deficiency severe enough to cause neurological problems (1).

In the months before he was admitted, he would engage in obsessive–compulsive behavior, including lining up his toys, repetitive stair climbing, and difficulty concentrating. Eventually he developed a widened gait (i.e., he couldn’t walk normally) and was taken to the hospital. His vitamin B12 level was 109 pg/ml (normal range is above 250 pg/ml).

Luckily, the child made an almost full neurological recovery after two months of vitamin B12 treatment.

The boy was also somewhat malnourished and had previously had teeth extracted due to “poor dentition.”

So where is the progress?

The progress is in the sensitive write-up performed by the researchers who did not disparage the vegan diet for children or try to convince the parents to feed the child animal products. Rather, they pointed out some benefits of a vegan diet for children, while cautioning that it needs fortification with vitamin B12.

Let’s hope this child makes a 100% recovery in both his neurological development and his teeth.

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Reference

1. Crawford JR, Say D. Vitamin B12 deficiency presenting as acute ataxia. BMJ Case Rep. 2013 Mar 26;2013. | link

6 Responses to “B12 Deficiency in a Vegan: Some Progress?”

  1. Pamela Says:

    Glad to hear this boy is on the road to recovery.
    At a point in my life I also was very low in B12, I now sprinkle Bobs Red Mill Nutrient Yeast on my breakfast toast every morning, it contains a high source of Vegan B12 & it brought my B12 up to great levels & maintains it there.
    Pamela

  2. Jan Carrie Steven Says:

    I am very sorry to hear this child got so sick and am hoping for a full recover. This kind of thing is unnecessary. My NP/MD tell me I have better B12 levels than their meat-eating patients. Simple supplementation…

  3. Sayward Rebhal Says:

    Hey Jack! Thanks for this post, troubling as it may be. I like your takeaway of hope, but as a mother of a small vegan, I can’t help but always feel a pang of fear when I read these sorts of stories.

    I have a question for you. Do you know if/how often non-vegan children are admitted for cases of malnutrition? Is this happening to other children, or is it more prevalent in vegetarians/vegans? Obviously B12 is more of a veg issue, but I wonder if other nutrients are missing in other diets, and if omnivore children are showing up clinically malnourished?

    It sort of sounds like a defensive question, but I am just genuinely curious. It’s a statistic that seems like it could be important. Is there a way to track all cases of juvenile malnutrition?

    Thanks so much!

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Sayward,

    > if omnivore children are showing up clinically malnourished?

    I don’t know. The number of vegan kids this happens to, as reported in the literature or news that I’m aware of, is a very small number. This was the first case of B12 deficiency in a vegan child reported in the scientific literature from the US since 2003. I think a few others have been in the news, but less than one a year.

    Except for being due to poverty or neglect, an omnivorous diet should not result in a child being severely malnourished although it’s possible if they eliminate a large group of foods entirely. Vitamin D could be an issue for omnivorous children. The more common problem is over-nutrition for omnivores.

  5. Stephen Says:

    Jack,

    Your latest Vitamin B12 story points up the need to deploy the best B12 diagnostic tool – the Holotranscobalimin test. Can you locatte a source for this test?

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Stephen,

    I appreciate your comment, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Parents of vegan kids just need to make sure they are getting vitamin B12 on a regular basis. If they think their child has B12 deficiency, they should get their B12 and/or their MMA levels tested. Those are common tests. There’s no need for a holotranscobalamin-2 test unless some sort of significant metabolic defect is suspected that needs to be parsed out in more detail.

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