Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found women who lacked vitamin B12 in their diets were more likely to have a preterm birth.
The study of 11,216 pregnancies in 11 countries showed that low levels of vitamin B12, commonly found in animal products, were linked to increased risks of having preterm births. Vitamin B12 is vital for the production of red blood cells and cellular metabolic energy. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can lead to anemia and damage to the nervous system.
"Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin such as meat, milk and eggs," Dr. Tormod Rogne, of Akershus University Hospital and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Pregnant women who consume too few animal-derived foods increase their risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency."
Low birth weight and preterm births are the cause of half of all infant deaths in the first 28 days of life worldwide.
Researchers found that in countries where people eat diets high in animal products like Norway and several Western countries, the percentage of women with vitamin B12 deficiencies was small.
"In countries where vegetarian diets predominate, such as in India, the percentage of pregnant women with B12 deficiency can exceed two thirds," Rogne said. "Low levels of vitamin B12 in pregnant women did no appear to affect the newborn's birth weight. But we did find that vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy was associated with a 21 percent increased risk of giving birth prematurely."
Other factors including vegetarian or vegan lifestyles and socioeconomic factors can 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. "Although we found that vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, we know very little about the effects of taking vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy."
Rogne said more research needs to be done to determine into the effects of supplements on preterm birth rates.
The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.