Sunday March 07, 2021

Vegan kids at risk of metabolism, low vitamin

Published : 22 Jan 2021, 01:33

Updated : 22 Jan 2021, 11:24

  DF Report

Press Release Photo: University of Helsinki by MOSTPHOTOS.

The vegan children do have a remarkably altered metabolism and lower vitamin A and D status compared to the children with no special diet, said a study report.

University of Helsinki researchers released the report of the comprehensive pilot study on the metabolic effects of fully vegan diet on young children, said the university in a press release on Thursday.

The study concludes that vegan diet has a broad effect on children’s metabolism. Serum biomarker levels for vitamins A and D, cholesterol forms and essential amino acids were significantly lower in children on vegan diet compared to age-adjusted omnivores.

In addition, docosahexaenoic acid is absent in vegan diet. The results of the study were recently published in a high-profile international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Vegan diets gain popularity especially among young adults, and through choices of the families vegan diet is becoming more common in young children, too.

The motives behind choosing a vegan lifestyle are ecological, ethical and health-related: vegan diets exclude all animal-based products.

It is recommended that fully vegan diet is always supplemented with vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine, and based on individual assessment, the supplementation of calcium, vitamin B2, iron and zinc may be needed.

Except for vitamin D, the study did not find differences between diet groups in the levels of these nutrients in young children.

All of the participated vegan children used vitamin B12 regularly, and all but one used vitamin D and iodine supplementation regularly, indicating that Finnish vegan families are well familiar with the previously known nutritional requirements of vegan diets.

However, current nutritional recommendations are based on studies conducted on adult vegans, and previous studies on metabolic effects of vegan diets in children do not exist.

In their recently published article Topi Hovinen, MD, and Liisa Korkalo, PhD, together with the multidisciplinary team led by Academy Professor Anu Suomalainen-Wartiovaara and Docent Maijaliisa Erkkola studied comprehensively the nutrition and metabolism of 40 healthy children in day-care centres of Helsinki.

The children were following a vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet according to the choice of their families. Their nutritional intake, metabolic biomarkers and micronutrient statuses were extensively studied.

The children on a fully vegan diet were found to have significantly lower vitamin D levels compared to children without a special diet, despite having regular vitamin D supplementation and blood samples being collected in late summer. Surprisingly, their vitamin A status was lowered, too. Levels for LDL and HDL cholesterol, essential amino acid, and docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty acid with a central role in development of visual function, were low while folate levels were remarkably high in vegan children.

“Our results indicate that the health effects of strict diets on children cannot be extrapolated from studies on adults. In addition to vitamin D intake, attention must be paid to adequate intake of vitamin A and protein from various sources,” said Topi Hovinen.