I just read that because I’m a vegetarian — and will be when I get pregnant — my kids will be at increased risk for alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use as teenagers. That seems insane. What is that all about? — Sharon F., Charlotte, North Carolina
The information you’re referring to was generated from data on 5,109 women and their children in a long-running study in England called ALSPAC (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children). Overall, about 10 percent of 15-year-olds smoked at least once a week, used moderate amounts of marijuana and drank enough to cause behavior problems. But teens of vegetarian moms were 75 percent more likely to have alcohol-related issues, 85 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes and 2.7 times more likely to smoke marijuana than teens whose moms ate meat when pregnant. That’s what’s making headlines.
But when the researchers looked more closely at their data, they found that both vegetarian and meat-eating moms who lack genes that help the body absorb and use vitamin B-12 and deliver it to the fetus, have kids with a greater risk for those behavior problems.
Among meat-eating and vegetarian moms who have the genes that help make sure B-12 is delivered into their bloodstream, well, in that subset, vegetarian moms are more likely to have at-risk teens. That may be because B-12 is easiest to get from meat and a lack of B-12 affects fetal brain development, causing poorer impulse control as a teen.
The lesson? Vegetarian or a meat-eater, pregnant or not, get a good supply of essential nutrients. Have your B-12 levels checked, and take supplements if your doctor recommends them. Make sure you’re eating nine servings (think handfuls) of produce daily, skip highly processed foods and added sugar and syrups in foods and beverages. Then protect yourself with half a prenatal multivitamin morning and night starting three months prior to and during pregnancy. Not only will your children get appropriate B-12, but they will have 80 percent fewer congenital defects of any cause, 65 percent fewer childhood cancers to age 6 and 40 percent fewer autism spectrum disorders.
My mother is in her late 80s, and she’s in a retirement home. One person has come down with pneumonia, so they put the whole place on lockdown. The shared dining area is off-limits, and we can’t visit for a couple of days. Is that normal operating procedure? Is pneumonia so contagious? — Angie B., Barryville, New York
Yes it’s contagious, and yes, a lockdown is a good move. Pneumonia is an inflammatory disease of the lungs and can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even a fungus. It’s extremely dangerous in an elderly population living in close quarters. Hopefully, your mom’s had a pneumonia vaccine, but even if she has, it’s not a 100 percent guarantee she won’t contract the infection. (Last year only two-thirds of folks over 65 were vaccinated.)
What the staff in her facility is doing is trying to make sure the pneumonia stays isolated. True, pneumonia isn’t usually as contagious as the flu, but the microbes can be spread by coughing or sneezing. A person can be contagious from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on the type of pneumonia. The fungal type is triggered by mycobacterium and mycoplasma organisms that are highly contagious; other types, including pneumococcal pneumonia, are more difficult to transmit. The reason you’re not allowed in now is that you could actually transmit the microbes without getting infected yourself, if you have a strong immune system.
The elderly, young children or anyone with a weak/compromised immune system is at highest risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, more than 50,000 Americans died from pneumonia.
Fortunately, bacterial pneumonia can be successfully treated with antibiotics, and we’re getting better at treating other kinds too. But the best treatment is prevention, and you should be glad your mom’s in a place where they take that seriously.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the WellnessInstitute at the Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to email@example.com.