Baby contracts rare 18th century disease after drinking only almond milk

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"The child had reportedly been fed exclusively with almond beverages and almond flour from the time he was just two months old right until he was 11 months, when he started showing symptoms of scurvy..."

Scurvy is a disease caused by a severe lack of vitamin C, and is usually associated with sailors during the 16th to 18th centuries, who travelled long distances without enough of this vitamin -- and often died due to it.

The disease is almost never heard of in the developed world... until now.

In Spain, an 11-month-old baby has been diagnosed by doctors with scurvy. Doctors believe the baby's diet was to blame for the condition.

The child had reportedly been fed exclusively with almond beverages and almond flour from the time he was just two months old right until he was 11 months, when he started showing symptoms of the disease.

Proper nourishment for babies

The diagnosis of scurvy was reported in the journal Pediatrics last week and highlights the importance of providing good nourishment to babies especially in their first year, and the risks of restricting babies' diets to only plant-based beverages like almond milk.

The background to the case

According to the study and a Washington Post report, the baby was on milk formula until he was two-and-a-half months old. After he started to get rashes, a doctor recommended changing his diet.

So the little one was switched to an almond-based prepared mixture and would consume around 30 ounces of more ounces of it daily.

When the baby turned six months old, his mum reportedly attempted to start him on solids -- pureed vegetables and fruits -- but the child rejected this food.

By seven months, the baby seemed to be progressing, say reports, and was hitting milestones like being able to sit without support. But a month later, "he showed less interest in interacting and was more unstable when sitting," write the study authors.

When the child turned 11 months old, he was still healthy, but was showing signs of tiredness and irritability. The Washington Post report quotes the study authors as saying the baby "refused to support his legs on a solid surface" and cried if someone tried to move his legs.

It was at this point that the baby was taken in to see doctors and was diagnosed with scurvy. He also had several symptoms indicative of the disease, such as fractures (of his femur), osteopenia, kidney problems and more, write the doctors at Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe de Valencia.

Luckily, the little one gradually started recovering after he was put on vitamin C replacement therapy at a dose of 300 mg per day. He was also "fed a mixture of formula, fruit and meat and was cut off from the almond-based beverage," say reports.

The study authors write, "this case presents scurvy as a new and severe complication of improper use of almond beverage in the first year of life."

They also warn that "plant-based beverages are not a complete food", and urge paediatricians and parents to keep this in mind when looking for alternatives to breast milk and milk-based formula.

Why is vitamin C so important to babies? Find out on the next page.

The importance of vitamin C

Vitamin C is crucial for the healthy development and growth of babies. It boosts their immune system and helps with iron absorption, say medical experts.

However, in the case of the Spanish baby, "the industrial process of almond beverages cause[d] the vitamin to lose its 'biological activity,' says the Washington Times report.

But almond milk alone won't give babies scurvy. It's just that along with it, they need a proper combination of other foods to compensate for the nutrients they need.

"The issue here is not one of a plant-based diet being inadequate or inappropriate, but rather the absence of formula and/or breast milk in this infant's diet," says Las Vegas-based dietitian Andy Bellatti, quoted by news reports. He noted that cow milk also lacks vitamin C.

In the case of the baby, if he had fruits, breast milk or formula supplementing his diet, his vitamin C needs would reportedly have been met.

"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 write.

The take-home messages? 

  • Always consult your child's paediatrician if you are thinking of stopping breast milk or formula before your baby is six months old.
  • When you introduce solids to your little one, do ensure he eats a good mix of fruits and vegetables.
  • Do try to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible, as breast milk contains a valuable mix of nutrients your little one needs.

For some yummy weaning recipes for little ones, please read this theAsianparent article. To find out about the benefits of baby-led weaning, click this link.

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