The Vegan Society Warns Vegans of B12 Deficiency
Thinking about going plant-based? Then you may want to heed some important advice . . .
Make no mistake, there are huge health benefits to be gained from a plant-based diet, many of which have received a good amount of media attention of late, with high profile sports people, media celebrities and health gurus extolling the virtues of following a meat-free diet across social media. However, there are a number of things you should be aware of when embarking on a predominantly plant-based regime, one of which is the importance of vitamin B12.
Lack of vitamin B12 can have an enormous impact on health, causing numerous unwelcome symptoms and often resulting in anaemia, fatigue and nervous system damage, though it may take some time for the symptoms to become obvious. Just like all the other B vitamins, B12 is water-soluble and needs to be regularly supplied by our diet. The problem is that the best natural food sources of B12 are all of animal origin – dairy products, meat, eggs, fish and other seafood – so if these foods are taken out of the diet without being replaced, problems relating to deficiency may arise.
According to the Vegan Society website "the only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements.”
The Vegan Society advises that “In over 60 years of vegan experimentation only B12 fortified foods and B12 supplements have proven themselves as reliable sources of B12.” The advice goes on to warn that “If for any reason you choose not to use fortified foods or supplements, you should recognise that you are carrying out a dangerous experiment – one that many have tried before with consistently low levels of success.”
Furthermore, if you are a vegan with history of bowel surgery, digestive issues or have a genetic predisposition which means you are not able to utilise vitamin B12 very well, then your requirements will be increased.
How much do I need and in which form?
The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 which our body needs to carry out essential functions is 1.5mcg daily for adultsi. However, for reasons named above, you may require substantially more of this if digestion or conversion to active-B12 is impaired. It is therefore good to know that the safe upper level as reported by The Expert Group On Vitamins and Minerals is 2000mcg, which reveals that much higher doses are well tolerated, if not useful, and do not pose a risk of toxicity.ii
There are various forms of vitamin B12 otherwise known as cobalamin available. These include hydroxycobalamin, cyanocobalamin, adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin. The latter 2 being the active forms that are ’ready-made’ for the body to use.
The advice and generally held opinion, is that if you are following a vegan diet, it is critical you add vitamin B12 through fortification and/or supplementation at the recommended dosage. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of B12 deficiency or are even slightly concerned that you might be low, it’s worth a quick trip to your GP for further investigation.
Our team of expert Nutritionists are here to help if you have any questions relating to your health.
iNHS website accessed on 8th Dec 2021: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/
iiSafe Upper Levels of Vitamins and Minerals May 2003: https://cot.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/vitmin2003.pdf
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