Vegans need Vitamin B12 supplements!

What all vegans need to know about vitamin B12

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is a vitamin containing cobalt that is made by micro-organisms.  It is the largest and most structurally complex B Vitamin and has many forms or "vitamers such as hydroxocobalamin, cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin.

It used to be that people eating any animals products would get enough of this vitamin and vegetarians and vegans are likely to run low on this.  There are no plant-based foods (other than fortified foods - that is food where vitamins like vitamin B12 have been added) that contain enough vitamin B12 to healthily sustain you on your vegan life. 

Interesting fact: Due to intensive farming many animals are now injected with vitamin B12 and it is this B12 that meat and animals eaters are getting.  "Naturally occurring vitamin B12 is becoming rarer in animal foods".

In summary:

  • you need vitamin B12

  • Your health is at risk if you do not supplement

  • Vegans taking a supplement have healthier B12 levels than many carnivores.

  • Some people show signs of serious vitamin B12 deficiency within a year - more commonly after 5 years of no intake and sometimes up to 20 years. 

  • Breastfed Infants whose mother’s have low B12 levels and vegans eating no fortified foods - for example those on raw food diets run a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

What happens if I don't get enough vitamin B12?

Very low B12 intakes can cause anemia and nervous system damage.  If you do not get vitamin B12 from fortified foods (for example, nutritional yeast flakes, fortified milk or cereals) you are likely to experience an array of issues - and possibly irreversible damage to your body over time. 

In adults, typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes

Many vegans get enough B12 to prevent serious deficiency, however many vegans (and omnivores) do not have enough Vitamin B12 for optimal health.

Why do I need a supplement - aren’t superfoods and fortified foods enough?

Unless you are consistently eating fortified foods - twice a day, then you may not get optimal vitamin B12.  Supplements can also contain different types of B12 which are better absorbed by some people.

Plant-based Vitamin B12 may contribute to your vitamin B12 needs but there is not proven source that we can safely rely on.  Vitamin B12 is a complex vitamin and just because a food contains vitamin b12 does not mean we will necessarily assimilate it.

The risk is too great not to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

How much should I take?

How much you need depends on your lifestyle and age and other factors.  It is best for a professional dietitian to analyse blood results from your medical doctor.

What if I take too much vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is a safe vitamin that will not have adverse effects if you have a bit more than you need.  Again, it is helpful to be advised by a professional dietitian who is knowledgable about Vegan nutrition and have your blood results analysed.

My blood tests said B12 levels are fine

There are cases that medical doctors assess B12 levels with tests that can easily over estimate your vitamin B12 levels.  For this reason, it is important that your medical doctor and/or dietitian know exactly which test to request.


Most important points:

Take a vitamin B12 supplement daily that is dissolved in the mouth.

Have accurate blood tests by a medical doctor to check your vitamin levels.  Ensure these tests assess your homocysteine levels.

B12 deficiency - It is simply not worth the risk.

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