Background: Lack of cobalamin may lead to neurologic disorders, which have been reported in strict vegetarians.
Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate whether cognitive functioning is affected in adolescents (aged 10-16 y) with marginal cobalamin status as a result of being fed a macrobiotic diet up to an average age of 6 y.
Design: Data on dietary intake, psychological test performance, and biochemical variables of cobalamin status were collected from 48 adolescents who consumed macrobiotic (vegan type) diets up to the age of 6 y, subsequently followed by lactovegetarian or omnivorous diets, and from 24 subjects (aged 10-18 y) who were fed omnivorous diets from birth onward. Thirty-one subjects from the previously macrobiotic group were cobalamin deficient according to their plasma methylmalonic acid concentrations. Seventeen previously macrobiotic subjects and all control subjects had normal cobalamin status.
Results: The control subjects performed better on most psychological tests than did macrobiotic subjects with low or normal cobalamin status. A significant relation between test score and cobalamin deficiency (P: = 0.01) was observed for a test measuring fluid intelligence (correlation coefficient: -0.28; 95% CI: -0.48, -0.08). This effect became more pronounced (P: = 0.003) within the subgroup of macrobiotic subjects (correlation coefficient: -0.38; 95% CI: -0.62, - 0.14).
Conclusion: Our data suggest that cobalamin deficiency, in the absence of hematologic signs, may lead to impaired cognitive performance in adolescents.