No difference in key breastmilk nutrients produced by mothers on vegan diet

Mothers following a vegan diet produce similar levels of essential nutrients – Vitamin B2 and carnitine – in their breastmilk as those following an omnivorous diet.

Research from the Amsterdam University Medical Centres found a vegan diet did not affect maternal breastmilk concentrations of the nutrients, even though Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and carnitine are found in the highest concentrations in animal products.

The study was prompted by the increasing popularity of vegan diets, noting that in the last four years, the number of people following a vegan diet in Europe has doubled. 

Lead researcher, Dr Hannah Juncker explains, “the maternal diet greatly influences the nutritional composition of human milk, which is important for child development. 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.” 

Previous studies have shown a shortage of Vitamin B2 in infants can lead to anaemia and neurological problems. Whereas a shortage of carnatine can result in  low blood sugar and the possibility of heart and brain disfunction.

Other research has suggested lactating women may need to increase their animal product consumption to avoid deficiencies during breastfeeding.

The Amsterdam University Medical Centres study found that despite lower levels of the two nutrients in the mothers following a vegan diet, there was no difference in their human milk concentrations between study groups.

The study suggests that the influence of a maternal vegan diet on these two important nutrients in milk may be less significant than previously suggested. 

“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,” Juncker says.

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