Updated: May 26, 2022
“Carnivorous humans and paleo-enthusiasts may say that taking a supplement is unnatural and that you should eat more meat. However, consuming the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol found in meat is unnatural for humans, who are best suited for a plant-based diet. There is no health reason to eat meat. Given that one in six meat eaters is also vitamin B12–deficient, they might be wise to take an oral supplement themselves” – Shivam Joshi, MD
When I became vegan, I felt so good for it that became a bit complacent about nutrition. When my best friend and long-time vegan asked if I was supplementing for B12 I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about. She told me about how vegans are recommended to supplement B12 as it’s hard to get it from our diet. I bought an online supplement, then proceeded to forget to take it every day as recommended.
So, what is B12?
Anyone who knows anything about vitamin B12 will tell that the best source of is from animal products. But vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria, not animals or plants. Vitamin B12 can be found in bacteria-laden manure, un-sanitised water and in the human intestinal tract, but needless to say, these sources are not recommenced. Many animal products contain high amounts of vitamin B12 because animals accumulate this bacteria during their lives, which bio-accumulates in their bodies. Livestock are often supplemented with vitamin B12 in their feed, sometimes through other animal’s manure. Historically, vitamin B12 from bacteria was naturally and reliably present in plant foods. However, with soil being exposed to more antibiotics and pesticides and modern sanitation practices, most plant foods are no longer reliable sources of B12. There are plant foods contain some vitamin B12, including certain mushrooms, seaweed and green powders. Others sources such as cereals, plant based milks, and nutritional yeast are often fortified with a crystalline form of vitamin B12. The crystalline form of vitamin B12 is actually thought to be preferable to the protein-bound form present in animal bodies because it’s easier for our bodies to absorb.
What is B12 deficiency?
In one study, vitamin B12 deficiency affected 86 percent of all vegans. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious condition which can cause anaemia, nerve damage, neuro-cognitive changes and even paralysis. If you’re transitioning to veganism, one thing you should be closely considering is your vitamin B12 intake. The Vegan Society recommends one of the following:
Eat B12 fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 per day
Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms.
Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
I have taken an oral B12 supplement over the last four years, as I said; I struggle to remember to take it daily as recommended. I have seen a steady decline in my B12 stores from blood test results over that period, even with oral supplementation. I decided to try B12 injections recently, even though my doctor had previously deferred me from it. Similar to iron, B12 is a difficult to absorb, but getting a B12 injection means it is absorbed straight into the blood stream. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins that accumulate in your body and can have side effects in excess, B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body only absorbs a small amount and the rest is excreted through urine. The range for B12 stores is large from 150-800mg with less than 150mg being an indicator of deficiency. A blood test is the only way to diagnose B12 deficiency.
My previous blood test indicated my B12 stores were at 180mg – in the low range. I recently had a course of four B12 injections done as a cosmetic procedure, my blood test results this week showed my B12 stores were around 800mg. B12 injections can be done cosmetically, or as I learnt this week, you can buy three ampules for around $10 over the counter at a pharmacy. You need access to a needle and syringe and someone trained to be able to inject it for you correctly, of course you can take it to your doctor to do it for you. My plan is to get a nurse in the family to give me an injection every six month or so. Of course, this is my personal choice to get B12 injections, usually they are only required when you are deficient.
If B12 is a concern for you or if you are interested in learning more be sure to raise it with you doctor, or better still, a qualified naturopath.
EDIT (2022): I've been working with naturopath over the last 6+ months and have enjoyed the benefits of a practitioner-only specialist blend of magnesium and B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12).
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
Why Every Vegan and Vegetarian Needs Vitamin B12: https://www.forksoverknives.com/every-vegan-vegetarian-needs-vitamin-b12/
Vitamin B12 Questions Answered: https://www.forksoverknives.com/vitamin-b12-questions-answered-2/#gs.pt9c=RI
What Every Vegan Should Know About Vitamin B12 (The Vegan Society): https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/vitamins-minerals-and-nutrients/vitamin-b12-your-key-facts/what-every-vegan-should-know-about-vitamin-b12