Lack of Vitamin B12 may Increase Heart Disease Risk Among Vegetarians
For the past 30 years, people have been advised to limit cholesterol, saturated and trans fat intake, often by reducing their consumption of red meat, dairy, and eggs. Not surprisingly, many people conclude that a vegetarian is healthier for the heart. This may not be the case.
Because plant foods do not contain vitamin B12 unless they are fortified, vegetarians can be vitamin B12 deficient. Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians do have healthier cardiovascular risk profiles (lower serum lipid and glucose concentrations) but Pawlak writes “vitamin B12 deficiency may negate the cardiovascular disease prevention benefits of vegetarian diets. In order to further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, vegetarians should be advised to use vitamin B12 supplements.”
In a study of vegetarians living in New Zealand, nearly a quarter were found to be vitamin B12 deficient and another 35% had marginal status. Vegetarians taking B12 supplements and non-vegetarians were less likely to be B12 deficient. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a global problem. Vegetarians living in Mexico, Canada and Europe are at risk because of inadequate vitamin B12 dietary intake.
Vitamin B12 deficiency causes tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, megaloblastic anemia, and may cause damage to the nervous system. Other symptoms include poor memory, depression, confusion, and problems with balance.e
To determine vitamin B12 status, several tests are available. These have been summarized by TalkingNutrition following the 9th International Conference on Homocysteine and One Carbon Metabolism in September, 2013.
Pawlak R. Is vitamin B12 deficiency a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in vegetarians? 2015 Am J Prev Med doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.02.009
Gammon CS, von Hurst PR, Coad J, Kruger R, Stonehouse W. Vegetarianism, vitamin B12 status, and insulin resistance in a group of predominantly overweight/obese South Asian women. 2012 Nutr doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2011.05.006