Women who avoid meat during pregnancy more likely to have children who abuse drugs and alcohol, finds study

Now, researchers warn the lifestyle could have adverse affects for offspring

Vegetarian mums-to-be may be increasing the risk of their children becoming addicted drugs because they could lack vitamin B12 in their diet while the child is developing, new research suggests.

The study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that teens whose mothers didn’t eat meat while they were pregnant were more likely to experience substance abuse.

In fact, it suggested they were more likely to partake in underage drinking, smoking and cannabis use, as their meat-eating counterparts.

But the NHS has responded, saying that more research is needed before we can come to more definitive conclusions.

A post on the NHS Choices website said: "While having too little vitamin B12 in your diet during pregnancy can affect a baby's development, it remains to be proven whether a vegetarian diet in pregnancy can cause substance abuse problems in teenage offspring."

The latest study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, which tracked what happened to almost 15,000 babies born to women in the Bristol area in 1991 and 1992, comparing the children of those who ate meat with those who didn’t.

5,246 children were evaluated with a median age of 15.5 years old.

After looking at the alcohol, drug and tobacco use habits of each participant, researchers say they discovered a link between vegetarianism during pregnancy and an increased risk of substance abuse.

Now, they are warning that despite a large number of people converting to vegetarianism and veganism it could actually have adverse affects for their offspring.

Study lead author Dr Joseph Hibbeln said that, while women are often advised to reduce their meat consumption, this can cause nutritional deficiencies that may affect the development of a baby's brain.

But the NHS said there was no cause for alarm, adding: "The findings do not mean that vegetarian pregnant women need to start eating meat. It is already recommended that vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be take special care to ensure they get enough of certain nutrients that are found in meat and fish, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron."

Some vegetarians experience B12 deficiency while pregnant, as the vitamin is mainly available from meats and shellfish. As such, the implementation of vegetarian foods that are B12-rich along with more widespread use of supplements could prove beneficial for pregnant vegetarians.

“Among Western populations infants of vitamin B12 deficient mothers have poor brain growth, developmental regression, irritability, thrive poorly and demonstrate residual deficits in cognitive and social development,” said Dr Hibbeln.

The NHS also pointed out a number of limitations in the study, relating to participation, adjustment for socioeconomic factors, and the reliability of the self-reporting of substance use and abuse.

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