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The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition volume 68, pages 541548 (2014) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 06 July 2016

Abstract

Individuals following vegetarian diets are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency owing to suboptimal intake. As vitamin B12 is essential for the synthesis of nucleic acids, erythrocytes and in the maintenance of myelin, deficiency may result in a variety of symptoms. Some of these symptoms may be severe while others may be irreversible. The objective of this review was to assess vitamin B12 deficiency, based on reported serum vitamin B12, among individuals adhering to different types of vegetarian diets. A systematic literature search was carried out using multiple search engines including PubMed, Medline, CINAHL plus, ERIC, Nursing and Allied Health Collection and Nursing/Academic Edition. The inclusion criteria consisted of original studies that assessed serum vitamin B12, studies written in English, non-case studies and studies that reported actual percentages of vitamin B12 deficiency. Forty research studies were included. The deficiency prevalence among infants reached 45%. The deficiency among the children and adolescents ranged from 0 to 33.3%. Deficiency among pregnant women ranged from 17 to 39%, dependent on the trimester. Adults and elderly individuals had a deficiency range of 0–86.5%. Higher deficiency prevalence was reported in vegans than in other vegetarians. Thus, with few exceptions, the reviewed studies documented relatively high deficiency prevalence among vegetarians. Vegans who do not ingest vitamin B12 supplements were found to be at especially high risk. Vegetarians, especially vegans, should give strong consideration to the use of vitamin B12 supplements to ensure adequate vitamin B12 intake. Vegetarians, regardless of the type of vegetarian diet they adhere to, should be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency.

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  1. Department of Nutrition Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA

    • R Pawlak
    • , S E Lester
    •  & T Babatunde

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Correspondence to R Pawlak.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2014.46

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