A recent study conducted by the University of Copenhagen has unearthed concerning findings about vegan diets. [Source]
The research, published in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, indicates that vegan women are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening preeclampsia and giving birth to underweight babies.
The comprehensive study analyzed data from 66,738 Danish pregnancies recorded between 1996 and 2002. Among these, the majority, 65,872 women, were omnivores, while a smaller fraction comprised of 666 fish/poultry vegetarians, 183 vegetarians, and 18 vegans.
The distinction in dietary habits has brought to light significant differences in pregnancy outcomes. The findings were startling: babies born to vegan mothers were, on average, half a pound lighter.
This discrepancy in birth weight raises questions about the nutritional adequacy of a vegan diet during pregnancy. The researchers pointed out, “Intake of micronutrients was considerably lower among vegans, but when dietary supplements were taken into consideration, no major differences were observed.”
However, the study did not just stop at birth weights. It delved into the duration of pregnancies as well, revealing that pregnancies among vegan women lasted, on average, 5.2 days longer.
This duration contrasts with mothers who consumed fish and poultry, whose babies were only 0.03 pounds lighter than those of omnivores. Interestingly, vegetarian mothers had the largest babies, weighing 0.07 pounds heavier on average than those born to omnivorous mothers.
The researchers’ motivation for undertaking this study was clear, given the dramatic rise in the number of people adhering to plant-based diets in recent years.
In Denmark alone, veganism in the general population has escalated from being “barely measurable” in 2010 to around 3% in 2022.
In the United States, the numbers are even higher, with roughly 5% of the population identifying as vegetarian and about 4% following a vegan diet. [Source]
The study’s implications extend beyond birth weights. Preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, can lead to serious complications for both the mother and the baby, including impaired kidney and liver function, blood clotting issues, fluid in the lungs, seizures, and in severe cases, death.
The Preeclampsia Foundation notes that this condition affects 5% to 8% of U.S. births. Celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have brought attention to this condition by sharing their own diagnoses.
Medical professionals emphasize the importance of a balanced diet during pregnancy, recommending a daily protein intake of around 70 grams. For vegan and vegetarian pregnant women, ensuring adequate intake of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iodine is crucial, given their absence or scarcity in plant-based diets.
The University of Copenhagen’s study, while shedding light on these critical issues, acknowledges its own limitations, primarily the extremely low number of vegan pregnancies (0.03%; 18 women) relative to the total sample size. The authors also highlight that being vegan during the study period (1996–2002) might reflect different habits compared to contemporary vegan diets.
This study signifies a need for continued research to fully understand the implications of plant-based diets for expectant mothers.