A new study from Amsterdam University Medical Centers (UMC) in the Netherlands suggests that a vegan diet does not affect maternal breastmilk concentrations of vitamin B2 and carnitine, which are present in higher quantities in animal foods. The study was presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN).

Using a technique that separates a sample into its parts and analyses their mass, researchers found that lactating mothers following a plant-based diet compared to mothers with an omnivorous diet showed no difference in the human milk concentrations of vitamin B2 or carnitine.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is an important co-factor for enzymes involved in many biological pathways. Carnitine is a quaternary ammonium compound involved in energy metabolism in several organisms. Carnitine shortages in the infant can lead to low blood sugar, as well as the possibility of heart and brain dysfunction.  The deficiency of any of these can cause severe problems to infants, and as carnitine intake and subsequent plasma concentrations have also been previously found to be lower in those with vegan diets than with omnivorous diets, this is why this study was conducted. 

Dr Hannah Juncker, Lead Researcher, said,  “The results of our study suggest that vitamin B2 and carnitine concentrations in human milk are not influenced by consumption of a vegan diet. These results suggest that a vegan diet in lactating mothers is not a risk for the development of a vitamin B2 or carnitine deficiency in breastfed infants. This information is useful for breastfeeding mothers and also for donor human milk banks, which collect milk for provision to premature infants who do not receive sufficient mother’s own milk.”

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.