The pair called the emergency services in March 2008 after becoming worried about their baby's listlessness. When the ambulance arrived, the baby was already dead.
According to Yahoo Health:
"An autopsy showed that Louise was suffering from a vitamin A and B12 deficiency which experts say increases a child's sensitivity to infection and can be due to an unbalanced diet ... The couple did not follow the doctor's advice to hospitalize the baby who was suffering from bronchitis and was losing weight when they went for the nine-month check-up."
Breast milk is a near perfect food that is hands-down the best nourishment you can give to your baby. But it does have one downfall: its nutritional value is influenced by the mother's diet, and in extreme cases this can result in important nutrients missing from the breast milk.
In the tragic case reported above, it appears 11-month-old Louise lost her life because her mom's vegan diet created vitamin deficiencies in the breast milk she was exclusively fed on. Sadly, there were warning signs that the milk was not providing proper nutrition months before her death, as the baby was sickly and losing weight, but they were ignored.
People following a strict vegan diet are often convinced that it is the healthiest way of eating possible, and this was most likely the case with Louise's parents. But this tragic case can serve as a powerful warning for those who choose to avoid all animal foods when breastfeeding.
Veganism Can be Deadly
Some may disagree with me, but it is my observation and belief that a strict vegan diet, one that includes no sources of animal protein whatsoever, can be dangerous -- even deadly.
I am certainly not advocating that everyone eat meat (especially factory-farmed meat), but it seems clear to me that virtually everyone benefits from some animal protein. In some cultures this may be very little such as the insects consumed in grains in India. In others, meat proteins may make up a considerable portion of diet or other animal proteins like raw organic dairy and eggs.
With veganism, many make this dietary choice based on ethical or spiritual convictions, and I have no disagreements with that.
However, there are very often health consequences for choosing to avoid all animal foods that can lead to missing critical nutrients needed to optimize your health. This was the case with popular actress Angelina Jolie, who was a vegan for a long time until, in her words, "it nearly killed me."
But for expectant and nursing mothers, babies, and children, a vegan diet may not be tolerated for nearly as long without consequences.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency is One Glaring Risk
Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B complex vitamins and is naturally present in foods that come from animals, including meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products. If you eat a strict vegan diet, vitamin B12 is one of the nutrients your body is most likely deficient in, and even if you take a supplement, vegetarian supplements of B12 are notoriously ineffective in raising B12 levels.
According to a study on the Hallelujah Diet -- a strict vegan diet -- by researcher Michael Donaldson, Ph.D. of Cornell University:
"Our study revealed early signs of vitamin B12 deficiency in 26 of the 54 people tested, after following the Hallelujah Diet for as little as two to four years."
He noted not only that vegan food sources of vitamin B12 are sparse, but that deficiency is especially dangerous for pregnant and nursing moms and infants:
"Based on the published studies and our results, adequate vitamin B12 status of vegans cannot be taken for granted. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and small children are particularly vulnerable to B12 shortages. Ensuring adequate B12 is critical for normal neurological development and maintenance, with shortages resulting in permanent damage."
Even though vitamin B12 is water-soluble, it doesn't exit your body quickly like other water-soluble vitamins. B12 is stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues, and as a result, a deficiency may not show itself for a number of years.
This time lag is a serious concern, because after about seven years of B12 deficiency, irreversible brain damage and other problems can result. In infants and children, however, extensive B12 reserves have not yet been established, so deficiency signs and symptoms tend to become apparent more rapidly.
Do You Know Your Nutritional Type?
If you're currently following a vegan diet, you may feel your health improve by adding in some animal-based proteins like raw organic dairy and eggs. However, whether this is sufficient depends on your nutritional type.
Your nutritional type determines what ratio of fats, carbohydrates and protein your body needs to thrive.
I believe it's safe to say we all need some of each of these three categories, but our bodies require different ratios of each. This means that some people will thrive on very large amounts of vegetables and very little animal protein. For others, this ratio would spell disaster for their health.
Nutritional typing categorizes people into three different groups:
- Protein: High amounts of healthy fats and protein and lower amounts of vegetables
- Carb: High amounts of vegetables and lower amounts of protein and fat
- Mixed: Somewhere between the above options
The people who fare the worst on vegan and vegetarian diets are those who are naturally protein types, as they're depriving their bodies of essential fuel, determined by their genetic and biochemical makeup.
Interestingly, after implementing nutritional typing, some of the most dramatic improvements I saw were in individuals who turned out to be protein types but were eating mostly vegetables.
Some of these people had strong ethical positions about eating animal products, and again I would never ask someone to eat animal foods if they had spiritual convictions against doing so. However, others were simply confused about this issue, and thought being a vegetarian or vegan was the healthiest option. They couldn't understand why they felt so sick and had so many health problems.
Once we were able to clear up that confusion, and experiment with the program, the result was typically quite impressive. You can find out your nutritional type now, for free, and I strongly encourage you to do so, especially if you're currently convinced that a vegan diet is the healthiest choice for you and your family, or you're following a vegan diet while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Remember also that the tragic death of 11-month-old Louise from her mother's vegan diet is an example of how important it is to eat a broad range of foods while you're breastfeeding -- not an example that breast milk is insufficient. In most cases, even if a mother's diet is not "perfect," breast milk will remain the best and most nutritious choice for babies.