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B12: What is it, do you need it, and how to get it on a vegan diet



We’ve all heard about B12 but is it really that important? And do I need to supplement it if I’m vegan or following a plant-based diet?


Well let’s start from the beginning - B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, produced by bacterial fermentation. In the past, dietary intake of B12 was relatively easy due to lower food processing and cleaning standards thus it could be found in many plant foods due to soil contamination. However today, it is rarely found in plant foods and is mostly only found in animals and their products – who are usually supplemented B12 anyways, due to the same issue.


We can store a large amount of B12 in our liver and although this is great, this also means it can take years for a deficiency to show via symptoms if you do not get regular blood tests. This makes it a potentially dangerous nutrient to not give attention to if you have a low intake. So, although I always recommend 6 month-yearly testing to ensure your levels are optimal –


These are the most common symptoms of a B12 deficiency:

· visual disturbances

· tiredness

· shortness of breath

· memory loss

· easy bruising and bleeding

· weight loss

· gut upset

· sore tongue

· pale skin

· light-headedness

· rapid heart rate

· tingling in the hands or feet

· changes in feeling the hands or feet

(Note: many of these can be symptoms of other deficiencies or conditions, thus if you are suffering from any of these it is recommended you see a medical professional.)


If left the deficiency is left untreated these symptoms can worsen and lead to chronic and irreversible damage to nerves and the brain.





And this is a list of all the important roles B12 plays in our body:

· Aids in forming red blood cells

· Aids in making DNA

· Supports brain function and development

· Supports nerve function and development

· Supports optimal bone mineral density

· Helps to synthesis and metabolize serotonin – supports mood

· Energy production

· Decreases homocysteine



So now you know what a deficiency may look and feel like and why B12 is so important for us. How can you ensure you are having enough? And how much do you need per day?


By following a vegan or plant-based diet, you are at risk of a B12 deficiency, however, fear not, this is easily prevented with just a bit of planning!


There are 2 main ways of reaching your daily B12 target – food or supplement. I will always recommend a supplement as it is just so easy, convenient and you know exactly how much you’re getting – unfortunately, the plant-based food sources alone are not reliable enough.


The recommended daily intake is 2.4mcg/day for regular adults (increased needs for pregnancy and breastfeeding).


Food sources include:

- Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, some bread, plant milk – always look at the nutrition panel to be sure it's there.


Supplements:

- Most are sublingual (under the tongue/oral absorption)

- Look preferentially for methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin as these are already metabolically active forms of b12 – however the other forms such as cyanocobalamin are fine too

- Supplement dosing is usually approx. 500mcg/day however we only absorb approx. 2% of that and even less at higher doses.

- And if you are severely deficient or have issues absorbing B12 (e.g., pernicious anaemia) then B12 injections are also available but as always, go speak to your GP about this.


Specific dosing (e.g. daily vs weekly) would be dependent on each individual thus for personal advice and blood test interpretation I would always recommend a 1:1 consult to ensure everything is at optimal levels or heading that way.


And that's it! That is really how easy it can be to maintain your B12 levels so you can be your best self and avoid those potentially harmful symptoms of a deficiency!


Let me know in the comments if you found this helpful, or if you have any more B12 questions or topics you’d like me to cover next.






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