Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that women who had B12 deficiency in their diets were 21% more likely to have a preterm birth.
Their 11 country study examined 11,216 pregnancies and births. Their data showed that low levels of vitamin B12 were linked to increased risks of having preterm births. Researchers noted that birth weight was unaffected. According to World Health Organization, preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under age 5.1
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for red blood cell production, brain and nervous system functions, cellular metabolic energy, as well as regulates and synthesizes DNA. A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, damage to the nervous system, lead to menstrual dysfunction, weight loss, mouth sores, and diarrhea.
The researchers stressed that women in countries with high animal product consumption (like Norway and many Western countries) had fewer B12 deficiencies.
According to the lead author, Dr. Tormod Rogne, of Akershus University Hospital, “Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin such as meat, milk and eggs… Pregnant women who consume too few animal-derived foods increase their risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.”
Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, as well as socioeconomic factors can also play a role in vitamin B12 deficiencies.
“Low blood concentrations of vitamin B12 may be related to other factors, such as malnutrition and poverty, which can also affect birth weight and length of pregnancy,” Rogne said.2
Vegetarians can increase their B12 by eating dairy products like milk and yoghurt or eating grains and other products, like nutritional yeast, that are fortified with B12. A 2014 study identified a likely bacterial source of B12 production in the ocean. Thaumarchaeota, from domain Archea, may be responsible for the world’s B12 production, as the bacteria is one of the most abundant organisms around. Professors Andrew Doxey and Josh Neufield, of University of Waterloo think that the marine presence of B12 controls the biological productivity of phytoplankton as well.3
2 Rogne, T., Tielemans, M. J., Chong, M. F., Yajnik, C. S., Krishnaveni, G. V., Poston, L., . . . Risnes, K. R. (2017). Associations of Maternal Vitamin B12 Concentration in Pregnancy With the Risks of Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Individual Participant Data. American Journal of Epidemiology. doi:10.1093/aje/kww212
3 “New bacterial source of vitamin B12 identified”, Nathan Gray+, 16-Sep 2014 http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/New-bacterial-source-of-vitamin-B12-identified