Maternal prenatal vitamin B12 intake is associated with speech development and mathematical abilities in childhood

Jean Golding*, Steve Gregory, Rosie Clark, Yasmin L Iles-Caven , Genette L Ellis, Caroline M Taylor, Joseph R. Hibbeln

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
138 Downloads (Pure)


Deficiencies of many nutrients in pregnancy have adverse effects on fetal brain development with consequent impaired cognitive function in childhood. However, it is unclear whether deficiencies of vitamin B12 prenatally are harmful to the developing fetus. We therefore used the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to test the hypothesis that cognitive outcomes in childhood are reduced if their mothers consumed a diet low in vitamin B12 during pregnancy. A detailed exposome analysis was used to identify 9 factors independently associated with low vitamin B12 intake. These were taken into account in each of 26 outcome analyses. Results showed that the children of women with the lowest 10% intake of B12 were at increased risk of poor vocabulary at 24 months, reduced ability at combining words at 38 months, poor speech intelligibility at 6 years, poor mathematics comprehension at school years 4 and 6 (ages 8-9 and 10-11 years), and poor results on the national mathematics tests (age 13). There were no such significant adjusted associations for reading or spelling abilities, or for verbal or full-scale IQ (Intelligence Quotient) at 8 or at 15. Thus, we have confirmed that there are adverse effects on the child's development if the pregnant woman has a low intake of vitamin B12, and we have shown that these are specific to certain speech and mathematical abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-78
Number of pages11
JournalNutrition Research
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2021

Structured keywords



  • Longitudinal cohort study
  • Pregnancy
  • Vitamin B12
  • Cognition
  • Speech
  • Mathematics


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