Background: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that it is possible for a vegetarian to obtain the recommended amount of nutrients with a properly planned diet but nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 deficiency, may occur if diet planning is not optimal. An early indicator of B12 deficiency is raised homocysteine concentrations in blood which can cause health issues.
Objective: The amino acid methionine is consumed via dietary protein. Methionine is used in the biosynthesis of other proteins. After a removal of a methyl group, it makes homocysteine. Slightly raised homocysteine may promote greater synthesis of glutathione, an important endogenous antioxidant protectant. It can then be recycled back into methionine or converted into cysteine with the addition of various B-vitamins such as vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Cysteine then uses outside sources of glutamate and glycine to create glutathione (GSH). With the catalyst glutathione peroxidase it donates an electron and becomes the oxidized form, glutathione disulfide (GSSG). It can then convert back to GSH with the aid of glutathione reductase by using the reduced form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) as an electron donor. This study will examine glutathione levels in omnivores and vegetarians and see if it is related to vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels.
Design: This cross-sectional study encompassed 16 omnivores and 17 vegetarians from Phoenix, Arizona. A vegetarian diet was defined as one that excludes red meat, poultry, pork and seafood but allows dairy products and/or eggs; the diet had to be followed for at least one year. An omnivore diet is defined as eats meat daily. Participants completed a diet questionnaire and a vitamin B12, B6 and folate food questionnaire and provided a fasting blood sample.
Results: The mean plasma B12 and homocysteine did not differ between diet groups. Glutathione was significantly lower among vegetarians in comparison to omnivores, 1.9±0.5 and 2.3±0.7 mmol respectively (p=0.046).
Conclusions: The hypothesis was shown to be incorrect that vegetarians would have a higher glutathione level than omnivores as a result of their modest consumption of vitamin B12. The implications of a reduced glutathione status are discussed.