Spanish baby develops scurvy after parents feed him almond milk-only diet

A woman feeds her baby with a bottle in Caracas on June 18, 2013. Leo Ramirez, Getty Images

He couldn’t move his legs without crying and his bones were fractured and thin. In a new case study, Spanish doctors document the rapid decline of an 11-month-old baby who developed scurvy after drinking only almond milk.

Pediatricians out of the Hospital Universitari I Politecnic La Fe de Valencia say the baby boy was born with a normal body weight of about seven pounds. For the first 2.5 months, he subsisted on a typical cow’s milk-based formula.

Because he developed a skin rash, doctors decided to change his formula to avoid allergies. Instead, the baby was fed an almond milk-based formula with almond flour, sesame powder, brown rice malt, brown rice, millet and probiotics.

At first, the baby thrived on his new diet. While he couldn’t eat pureed fruits and vegetables at the six-month mark, he was able to sit up by seven months, propping his body up.

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But a month later, on the plant-based diet, the baby’s health declined: he was lethargic, irritable, and – at 11 months – he couldn’t stand. In x-rays, his legs were thin and fracturing, revealing an obvious lack of vitamin C, D, calcium and iron. He lost stability when he’d sit up.

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“This case demonstrates that scurvy is a new and severe complication of improper use of almond drinks in the first year of life,” Dr. Isidro Vitoria, the case study’s lead investigator, said.

He and his team are now warning parents that plant-based baby formulas shouldn’t be used as the sole replacement for breast milk and infant formula.

“When plant-based beverages are the exclusive diet in the first year of life and not consumed as a supplement to formula or breastfeeding, it can result in severe nutritional problems,” they wrote.

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Scurvy is a condition triggered by an insufficient amount of vitamin C over a lengthy period of time. Symptoms include weakness, poor wound healing, anemia and rotting gums. It’s rare in developed countries, but those who are malnourished could develop the condition.

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After doctors diagnosed the baby boy, they placed him on vitamin C replacement therapy.

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After three months, his condition improved, and the pain and brittleness in his legs dissipated.

Read the full case study here.

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