Are the Children of Vegetarian Mothers More Likely to Abuse Drugs?

Women who are with child or planning to become pregnant often concern themselves with which diet would be best for their baby. Rightfully so, of course, these women should certainly learn more about the right way to approach nutrition to have the most successful, most healthful pregnancy possible.

Some women are already vegetarian while others consider that this might be the smartest strategy but a new study advises this might not be the case. This new study warns that pregnant women who are also vegetarian might be putting their children at a higher risk for drug or alcohol addiction.

The study looked at 5,109 women (and their offspring) with due dates between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992. Evaluating 5,246 of their offspring—with a median age of 15.5—the researchers found that the children of mothers who ate meat while pregnant were at a lower risk for substance abuse problems than children of mothers who were vegetarian.

To discern this, the researchers looked at the alcohol, drug, and tobacco use habits of every child evaluated through the study. Study leader Dr. Joseph Hibbeln comments that women are often advised to reduce meat consumption during their pregnancies—for a variety of health reasons—but adds that, perhaps, too big a reduction can cause nutritional deficiencies that can negatively affect the development of a baby’s brain.

For example, most vegetarians have a B12 deficiency during pregnancy. This is an “enegy” vitamin that helps to improve fast muscle recovery as well as mental acuity (it helps you feel less tired and helps you focus). Unfortunately—for vegetarians, anyway—vitamin B12 is most readily available from animal sources like beef and shellfish.

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

The lead study author also advises, “The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes recommendations for healthy vegetarian eating patterns. Our study points to the need to investigate potential health impacts, and solutions, for some women who choose to restrict certain food categories during pregnancy.”
The results of this study have been published in the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal.