The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters

Rima Obeid, Jürgen Geisel, Heike Schorr, Ulrich Hübner, Wolfgang Herrmann
European Journal of Haematology 2002, 69 (5-6): 275-9

OBJECTIVE: Subjects adopting a vegetarian diet are liable to vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies. Co-existing vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies may give an equivocal haematological picture, which may, in turn, delay making an early diagnosis. The current work was undertaken to investigate some haematological parameters in relation to vitamin B12 and iron status in vegetarians.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Twenty-nine vegans, 64 lacto- and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, in addition to 20 occasional meat eaters, were enrolled for this study. The total group included 49 males and 64 females aged [mean (SD) = 46(15) yr]. Complete blood count, methylmalonic acid (MMA), homocysteine (HCY), ferritin, and transferrin concentrations and percentage transferrin saturation were assayed, using conventional methods.

RESULTS: Vegans displayed the highest MMA and HCY levels (median MMA = 708 nmol L(-1); HCY = 12.8 micromol L(-1)). A lower lymphocyte count and a higher mean corpuscular volume (MCV) were found in vegans compared with lacto- or lacto-ovo-vegetarians (median = 1.51 x 10(9) vs. 1.83 x 10(9) L(-1); 92 vs. 89 fL, respectively). Vitamin B12-deficient subjects in the higher range of transferrin saturation percentage had higher MCV than vitamin B12-deficient subjects in the lower transferrin saturation range (mean MCV = 92 vs. 89 fL). A lower platelet count was found in the highest quartile of MMA (mean = 211 x 10(9) L(-1)) and in the highest quartile of HCY (mean = 215 x 10(9) L(-1)), compared with the other quartiles. Lower lymphocyte and platelet counts and higher MCV were found in subjects with elevated MMA and HCY, compared to those with normal metabolites. Factors that explained the variations in MCV were red blood cell count, ferritin, transferrin saturation, and methylmalonic acid levels.

CONCLUSION: vitamin B12 and iron status were compromised by a vegetarian diet. Variations in mean corpuscular volume were determined by iron and vitamin B12 status. Lower lymphocyte and platelet count were accompanied by metabolic evidence that indicated vitamin B12 deficiency.

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