Vitamin B12 deficiency is probably one of the most talked-about topics when it comes to veganism and that for a good reason. It is an essential vitamin, which means that the body cannot produce it, and it needs to be taken in with food.
Since most plants don’t contain B12 (and the ones that do only have minute amounts), vegans have a high risk of deficiency.
However, they are not the only ones at risk. Many omnivores and vegetarians often don't get enough of the vitamin either.
Since vitamin B12 deficiency can have severe and possibly irreversible health consequences, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about the vitamin in this post. Plus, we'll focus on how you can make sure you meet your need.
- What is vitamin B12 important?
- Who's at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency?
- How often should you get your B12 level tested, and what value is the most reliable?
- Which Vitamin B12 supplement should you take?
- How much Vitamin B12 should you take?
- What plant foods are a source of Vitamin B12?
- Do animal products contain B12?
- What are the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, and how serious is it?
- Can you overdose on Vitamin B12?
- Everything you need to know at a glance
What is vitamin B12 important?
Vitamin B12 has many functions. Among others it
- is involved in the production of DNA and blood cells
- participates in energy and fat metabolism
- degrades the amino acid homocysteine
- protects the brain and central nervous system.
Who's at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency?
As mentioned above, B12 deficiencies occur regardless of dietary lifestyle. That's why regular blood tests (see below) are recommended for all. Nevertheless, those on a plant-based/vegan diet have an increased risk if they don't regularly supplement adequate amounts of the vitamin.
If you take B12 inconsistently, not at all, or experience deficiency symptoms then it is vital that you:
1) consult your doctor
2) get a blood test done ASAP
3) possibly start supplementingSummary: Those on a vegan/plant-based diet who regularly take a supplement usually get adequate amounts of Vitamin B12. Those who take vitamin B12 inconsistently (or not at all), have a high risk of deficiency and should consult a doctor right away. Further, regardless of your diet, it is recommended to get a blood test done regularly.
How often should you get your B12 level tested, and what value is the most reliable?
Everyone, even if they take a supplement consistently, should get their blood checked regularly because a deficiency can have severe long term adverse health consequences.
The body stores B12 for several years, so it is sufficient if you get a test done every 2-3 years.
When getting your blood panel, there are a few values that can measure your B12 supply, but not all of them are equally suited.
Less reliable are the B12-concentration in the blood serum or the homocysteine value. By the time a deficiency is detected via the B12-concentration in the serum, irreversible damage may have already occurred.
Parameters, such as folic acid or vitamin B6, influence the homocysteine value. Therefore, it is not ideal either.
The best values to test for are holotranscobalamin and methylmalonate. Holotranscobalamin is the earliest way to detect a deficiency. Thus, you can treat the deficiency before serious consequences occur.
Methylmalonate shows how good your Vitamin B12 supply is over the long term and thus is also a reliable parameter.Summary: It is recommended to check your vitamin B12 status with a blood test every 2-3 years. The most reliable parameters to test for a holotranscobalamin and methylmalonate.
Which Vitamin B12 supplement should you take?
If you follow a vegan/plant-based diet, you need to take Vitamin B12 regularly and for the long term.
Enriched products (like plant milk and toothpaste) can help meet the required intake but by themselves are not enough.
Tablets/capsules are one of the most used types of supplements and in general, are a reliable B12 source.
However, there is one potential problem. To absorb the vitamin from these supplements, intrinsic factors (IF) are necessary. While that is usually the case, some people are unable to produce adequate amounts of IF
As a result, a B12 deficiency can occur even if you take a supplement consistently. (That’s another reason why it’s a good idea to get a blood test done every few years.)
Therefore, the most reliable supplements are sublingual ones such as drops, lozenges, and sprays, which have the major advantage that no Intrinsic factor is needed because absorption happens through the lining of the mouth.
Another way to supplement is by getting a Vitamin B12 injection.
However, this method is only recommended if you have a diagnosed deficiency.
Moreover, multivitamins can help meet the B12 requirement.
Even so, multivitamins, generally, are a bit problematic because they are not suited to your individual nutritional needs and requirements. You might get too much of some vitamins and minerals, which can harm your health.Summary: It is vital that vegans take a vitamin B12 supplement regularly. The most reliable options are sublingual ones such as drops and lozenges.
How much Vitamin B12 should you take?
The daily Vitamin B12 requirement is 4 µg per day for adults.
However, absorption is low, so the recommended weekly intake is at least 2500 µg. So, for example, if your supplement contains 1000 µg, you need to take it three times a week.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have a higher need while babies and children under the age of 13 have a lower one.
In the table below, you can find the daily recommended intake for all life stages.
|Age||B12 requirement per day|
|0-4 months||0,5 µg|
|4-12 months||1,4 µg|
|1-4 years||1,5 µg|
|4-7 years||2,0 µg|
|7-10 years||2,5 µg|
|10-13 years||3,5 µg|
|Pregnant women||4,5 µg|
|Breastfeeding women||5,5 µg|
What plant foods are a source of Vitamin B12?
Most plants do not contain any B12 and the ones that do only have minute amounts. Sauerkraut, beer, root vegetables, and some types of algae may contain the vitamin but not nearly enough to help meet the requirement.Summary: Most plants do not contain any B12, and the ones that do only have minute amounts. Therefore, it is essential that vegans take a supplement.
Do animal products contain B12?
Only microorganisms can produce Vitamin B12. Nevertheless, animal products contain B12, among others, because animals receive B12 injections, or a supplement is added to their feed.Summary: Animal products contain vitamin B12 only because the animals receive B12 injections or their feed is enriched with the vitamin.
What are the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, and how serious is it?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a very serious matter because it can lead to irreversible neurological damage and problems with blood production. Moreover, B12 degrades the amino acid homocysteine. Failure to degrade homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Early symptoms of a deficiency can be fatigue, paleness, and anemia.
A severe deficiency shows neurological and hematological symptoms such as depression, dizziness, dementia, trouble concentrating, and confusion. In children, it can cause brain development complications.Summary: A B12 deficiency is very serious. Early symptoms can be fatigue, paleness, and anemia. If you have a severe deficiency you may experience neurological and hematological symptoms.
Can you overdose on Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B 12 is water-soluble, so the body excretes excess amounts. Therefore, in most cases, no negative consequences occur even if you consume high amounts of the vitamin However, with huge doses (f.e. injections), adverse side effects may occur.Summary: Vitamin B12 is water-soluble and the body excretes excess amounts. Thus, in most cases, even high doses don't have negative side effects.
Everything you need to know at a glance
Do you take Vitamin B12 regularly? Let me know, I'm curious. 😃