How much B12 do vegans need?

How much B12 do vegans need?

Well this could be a really short article, the answer is the same as non-vegans! Ok so I’m being facetious but as most vegans know one of the arguments against being vegan from a health perspective, behind the fact that we are protein deficient, (sorry being silly again), is that B12 is the only vitamin that is not recognised as being reliably supplied from a varied vegan diet.


So what is B12?

Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that is essential for our health and well-being. Fortunately our bodies are able to store vitamin B12, in fact if you are just changing from a balanced omnivorous diet to that of a vegan one you could have up to 5 years’ worth stored in your liver.

There is a myth that it is produced by animals. It’s not, in fact B12 comes from microbes (mainly bacteria) that are found in soil, water, and the digestive tracts of animals which is why when you eat meat you can get B12. Many herbivorous mammals, including cattle and sheep, absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their own digestive system.

Humans however are unable ferment plant matter in this way and, for this reason, must seek an alternative source of B12.

B12 rich soil for vegans

Has it always been this way?

Well no, as we have said B12 comes from bacteria and would have been all around us in nature, in the soil, the water and on the plants. In the past we didn’t live in such a sterile society and as such the soil and other bacterial contamination of plant foods would have provided all the B12 we required.

Of course, we now live in a completely different environment thanks to the advances of the modern age. We live in a world that is much more sanitized and bacteria-free. This on the whole is a good thing but it has meant that our agricultural soils have also become sterilized.

Humans do actually have bacterial production of B12 in their lower intestinal tracts but they live far away from the small intestine where the actual absorption takes place.


Why is B12 essential?

Vitamin B12 has an essential role in various metabolic and physiologic events critical to human health. It plays a role in the production of red blood cells and a deficiency can lead to anaemia. It is also essential for proper nerve function and controlled levels of the amino acid homocysteine, elevated levels of which are associated with heart disease.

In adults deficiency symptoms can include loss of energy, tingling, numbness and reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure. Additional symptoms can include, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion and even personality changes.

These symptoms can develop slowly sometimes over several months or even longer before being diagnosed as B12 deficiency. The symptoms can normally be reversed by giving doses of B12 normally in the form of injections over a period of a few weeks however there have been cases of permanent damage in adults from B12 deficiency.


How much B12 to vegans need?

So as we have said the same as non vegans, which is? Well of course it varies depending on a range of factors such as age, sex, overall health etc. Even national recommendations for B12 intake varies considerably.

The NHS in the United Kingdom states that adults between 19 and 64 need a minimum of 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12. The US recommended intake is 2.4 micrograms a day for ordinary adults rising to 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers and in Germany recommended dose is 3 micrograms a day.

The NHS sates that 1.5mcg daily is sufficient to avoid deficiency, but this is an absorbed amount and as such the initial intake should be at least twice as much. To be certain that B12 deficiency doesn’t occur we recommend taking a supplement. A dose of between 25 to 100 micrograms per day is all that’s needed.

Larger doses, up to 1,000 micrograms per day are commonly recommended but probably not necessary although there are no known cases or symptoms of excessive B12 consumption so it probably better to take more than needed rather than not enough.


The Myth – Meat eaters are never B12 deficient

As we have said it is fairly easy to get B12 from eating meat, because the bacteria is formed through the digestion of plant matter by the animal and is then present in their meat. However, these days even meat is fortified with B12 as so many animals are factory farmed and fed an unnatural diet that they even become deficient.

Although meat eaters can ingest enough B12 from their diet this doesn’t mean that their body will absorb it. In the UK alone over 10% of people over 65 shows signs of B12 deficiency and this is usually caused by intestinal problems leading to a lack of absorption.

There is a view amongst many medical professionals that B12 deficiency is under diagnosed, and can sometimes explain a range of symptoms such as migraines, cramps, poor sleep, early dementia and even depression.

healthy vegan requires B12

Vegan sources of B12

So what options do we have as vegans? Well the only reliable vegan sources are foods fortified with B12 and B12 supplements. There are actually quite a range of fortified foods, in fact you are probably consuming some without even realising.

They include cereals, plant milks a whole range of snack bars and my personal favourite Marmite. There are of course more. The negative however is that many of these fortified foods often contain other artificial additives as well and therefore can’t really be recommended as the only source of B12.

In our opinion it really is worthwhile supplementing B12


Which vegan B12 supplement

You’ll typically see two types of vitamin B12 supplements on the market methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin. Don’t worry to much about the names just remember to choose methylcobalamin if you have the option as it has been proven to be absorbed much better than other forms.

You may need to check the nutrition label if it is not shown on the front and it may well say “methyl” instead of methycobalamin. We recommend choosing a sublingual or spray supplement. Sublingual are like tablets except they melt under the tongue where they immediately enter the bloodstream the same as sprays.

Make sure to choose one that doesn’t have added sugars, colouring, or flavouring agents and of course ensure its vegan!


Conclusion Chose a Vegan Diet and a B12 Supplement

As we know there is now an overwhelming body of nutritional research and evidence that clearly demonstrates the benefits of a balanced vegan diet. On a vegan diet we are able to thrive and maintain superior health while doing so.

The fact that we recommend vegans take a B12 supplement is not an indication that a vegan diet is inferior or unhealthy. It is related to the fact that our environment has changed and become more sterile and has nothing to do the overall nutritional quality of a vegan diet.

You could of course choose to have a diet rich in meat and hope that your gut is sufficiently healthy to absorb the B12 but of course by doing so are increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and a range of other ills. Or you could stick to you vegan diet and take a supplement.

I know what we recommend!

Sources and additional reading:

National Institutes of Health B12 Factsheets

Dr John McDougall on Vitamin B12

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