Supplements in the News

Vegetarian Roulette and Unbalanced Diets

It is perfectly reasonable to be a vegetarian if you do it correctly. But it isn’t something you can do carelessly and expect to go unscathed. Certain substances needed by the human body are traditionally obtained by eating meat and are not found in plants. Vegetarians who fail to substitute other sources for these substances will damage their health — perhaps permanently.1

A good example is vitamin B12 (cobalamin). This vitamin is involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body. It affects the synthesis and regulation of DNA and the production and storage of energy. When the body is deficient in B12, there are both short- and long-term consequences:2

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • poor memory
  • mania
  • psychosis
  • irreversible brain damage

Recent studies of the prevalence, consequences, and prevention of Vitamin B12 deficiencies have been in the news. When reading such news stories, however, it is important to be critical, because mainstream news sources often provide incorrect information or bad advice.

For example, the results of a Vitamin B clinical study conducted at the University of Oxford, UK, were recently announced to the news media. The researchers had shown that a daily regimen of B vitamins (including 0.5 mg/day of B12) slowed the rate of cognitive decline in elderly patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment, and substantially reduced the amount of brain shrinkage experienced by these patients over the two-year period of the study.

The detailed results appeared in a geriatric psychiatry journal,3 and were then summarized by various reporters for many newspapers and websites.

Some of these summaries were accurate and useful — such as the one on the Oxford website4, which pointed out that the patients in the study were using B12 supplements in order to correct the deficiencies caused by their normal diets.

Other news summaries were totally misleading — such as the one on the website of the Syracuse Post Standard, which urged readers to eat “a balanced diet” in order to avoid B12 deficiencies.5 Sure. And “if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” There are reasons why many people don’t have (or want) “a balanced diet” — for example, some of them are vegetarians. Others have no appetite. What they need is supplements, not clichés.