BACKGROUND: A vegetarian diet is considered to promote health and longevity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. However, a vegetarian diet may be deficient in some nutrients. Exclusion of animal products in vegetarian diets may affect the status of certain B-vitamins, and further cause the rise of plasma homocysteine concentration. OBJECTIVE: The nutritional status of various B-vitamins (B(1), B(2), B(6), B(12), folic acid) and the concentration of homocysteine in blood plasma of omnivores (n = 40), vegetarians (n = 36) and vegans (n = 42) in Austria was evaluated. METHODS: The evaluation was done using the functional parameters erythrocyte transketolase (ETK), glutathione reductase (EGR) and glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase (EGOT) activation coefficients. Enzyme activity was measured photometrically. The quantity of vitamins B(1), B(2) and B(6) in urine and the concentrations of vitamin B(6) and homocysteine in plasma were determined by HPLC methods with fluorescence detection. Plasma concentration of vitamin B(12) and folic acid were measured with radioimmunoassay. RESULTS: Most of the subjects showed a satisfying vitamin B(1) status. Vegans presented a significantly lower mean plasma vitamin B(12) concentration than omnivores and vegetarians and deficiency in 2.4% of the volunteers but the highest mean value of plasma folate among the investigated groups. A deficient status of folate was found in 18% of omnivores and in approximately 10% of vegans and vegetarians. The status of riboflavin is considered to be deficient in about 10% of omnivores and vegetarians and in over 30% of vegans. According to the activation coefficient of GOT, approximately one third of all subjects showed vitamin B(6) deficiency. Elevated homocysteine concentration in plasma was observed in 66% of the vegans and about 45-50% of the omnivores and vegetarians. Vegan subjects had significantly higher mean plasma homocysteine levels than omnivores. CONCLUSION: Thiamin and folate need not be a problem in a well-planned vegan diet. Vitamins B(12) and B(2) may need attention in the strict vegan diet, especially regarding elevated homocysteine levels in plasma. Pyridoxine status appeared to be independent of the diet.