What Puts You at Risk for B12 Deficiency?
As a vegan, you're aware that B12 is found in eggs, meat, poultry, dairy products, and other animal products, but where does B12 come from anyway?
Ironically, B12 is the by-product of a bacteria that grows on plants. So why can't vegans get enough B12 naturally?
In a perfect world, we would be able to get plenty of B12 from plants, but years of industrial agricultural practices (over farming, pesticides, etc.) have left us with soil that's lacking nutrients. Furthermore, our water sources are treated to kill all bacteria, even the ones that produce vitamin B12. Making matters worse, our obsession with clean food has led us to wash our fruits and vegetables numerous times prior to consumption.
Since plants don't make B12 and it's no longer present in reasonable small amounts in our soil and water, a vegan diet is typically supplemented with vegan foods fortified with vitamin B12, like non-dairy milk, meat substitutes, cereals, energy bars, and nutritional yeast.
Fortified foods often contain low doses of vitamin B12, so make sure you check the labels to see if you're getting the vitamins you need from the food you eat.
Unfortunately, the majority of fortified foods also have low-quality B12 sources and are poorly absorbed. This is due to both the limited bioavailability of B12 and malabsorption in our GI tract. That's why those most committed to the vegan lifestyle choose a high-quality, pill-free supplement for maximum absorption of B12.
Why is vitamin B12 so Important?
B12 plays an integral role in your body's ability to make red blood cells. When your body doesn't have enough red blood cells, your organs and tissues don't get enough oxygen. And if they don't get enough oxygen, your body won't work as well.
We also need B12 to make DNA, nerves, and to help perform other vital functions.
The average adult should get at least 2.4 micrograms of B12 every day. The body can't make B12, so if you're not getting it from food (as is the case with most vegans), you have to get it from supplements.
Most vegans don't consume enough B12 to meet their needs, and others can't absorb enough of it, especially if they aren't taking quality vegan B12 supplements. The older we are and the longer we're on a vegan diet, the more common B12 deficiencies.
What Are the Symptoms of B12 Deficiency?
A deficiency is often slow to develop, especially as it pertains to B12. But it can also come on quickly, especially if you've made sudden changes in your diet.
Some of the B12 deficiency symptoms are listed below:
- Difficulty walking
- A swollen, inflamed tongue
- Cognitive problems
- Memory loss
- Decreased appetite
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Fast heart rate
B12 deficiencies can take years to manifest and can cause permanent nerve damage and blood diseases, so early detection is essential. The good news is most vegans consume enough B12 to avoid permanent or long-term nervous system damage; it's the other sneaky symptoms and health problems that can go undetected for months or years.
Can a Blood Test Confirm a Deficiency?
A blood test can surely prove whether or not you have a B12 deficiency, but many doctors still rely on blood B12 levels and blood counts. However, for vegans, these tests can also be unreliable.
For example, some plants, including algae, contain B12 analogs. They imitate true B12, which can affect the B12 blood levels measured in the test. High folate intake is another factor that can affect B12 blood count levels, and suppress anemia blood count markers for B12 deficiency. As a result, they aren't detected in the blood counts.
The best option as a vegan is to work with a doctor that understands vegan nutrition and can perform more specialized blood homocysteine testing or MMA testing. These specific blood and urine tests will better inform the doctor of your B12 levels.
What Are the Different Types of B12 Supplements?
B12 comes in multiple forms when it's taken as a supplement. Here are the primary three, which you are most likely to see in fortified plant foods and supplements.
Methylcobalamin is a synthetic form of B12, and it's made in a lab. It's the easiest to use, and it's what some of the best B12 for vegans are made from.
Cyanocobalamin is another synthetic form of B12, and it's also made in a lab. It's harder for the body to absorb if you have certain genetic conditions that are expressed (like MTHFR) and takes more energy to convert it into a more usable form, so it's used less than Methylcobalamin in supplements.
Adenosylcobalamin is the least stable form of B12, which is why it's rarely used in supplements. However, it has the ability to give you a strong energy boost.
How Much Do You Need Daily?
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 for both women and men is 2.4 mcg, which isn't a lot. Studies have shown that taking daily oral supplements of up to 2 mcg is both safe and effective in treating a deficiency.
Because B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, it's generally considered safe, even in higher doses.
Your body doesn't absorb any of the excesses in a supplement. From a 1,000 mcg B12 supplement, your body only absorbs about 13 mcg and flushes out the excess through urination.
Stay Away from Pills
The reason why pills aren't optimal as it pertains to dosing your body with B12 is that B12 is poorly absorbed when consumed in pill form.
A dissolving tab or film that dissolves under your tongue, on the other hand, enables B12 absorption through the capillaries in your mouth and can be very effective.
A liquid form of vitamin B12 is yet a better choice, but a new type of gel supplement called a MICROGEL™ is the best choice.
With a gel supplement, you can add it to your food, put in in smoothies, mix it into your water, or just squeeze it straight into your mouth.
Plus, with a multivitamin gel, there are no fillers, binding glues, or coatings to worry about putting into your body – it's a more natural approach.
What Are the Best B12 Supplements for Vegans?
The best vegan B12 supplements are vegan-friendly, contain other synergistic vitamins, and include other vitamins vegans need. Even though you may be eating the best plant-based diet you could imagine, it's still important to take your supplements.
You want a supplement that can be immediately absorbed into the body, not one that comes in a pill. The problem with pills is that they take too long to disintegrate (and most of the nutrient particles inside the pill will not dissolve), so you aren't really absorbing all the nutrients promised on the label.
Most pill-based supplements contain fillers, binders, coatings, high fructose corn syrup and other genetically modified sweeteners that can block vitamin absorption and lead to other problems like weight gain.
The safest and most enjoyable way to consume your vitamins is by opting for a gel that is both tasty and free of things like artificial flavors, wheat, shellfish, nuts, dairy, eggs, and other animal by-products.
Plus, most people hate swallowing pills, so they skip days, which can ultimately lead to vitamin deficiencies.
For example, Healthycell's Vegan Essentials supplement is free of pesticides, metals, herbicides, residual solvents, and other toxic elements. It's also cruelty-free and sustainably sourced. And Healthycell worked hard to make sure you can recycle 100% of the packaging. Even the individual gel packs are recyclable via TerraCycle.
Committing to a vegan lifestyle is rewarding, but it requires more planning than any other diet. In addition to B12, there are 8 other supplements vegans need. Vitamin D, omega fatty acids (DHA, EPA), zinc, iron, iodine, choline, certain amino acids, and calcium are all additional nutrients in which vegans are either low or deficient. That's why it's so important to take a multivitamin specifically made for vegans that tackles all those potential areas of deficiency.
The Best Vegan B12 Supplement Is Healthycell's Vegan Essentials
Vegans don't just need vitamin B12. They also need their dose of daily vitamins like vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA), zinc, iron, iodine, choline, certain amino acids, and calcium, amongst others.
The best vegan B12 supplement is one that includes the proper daily dose of all the nutrients. It's also one that doesn't come in pill form and is free of harmful toxins like pesticides and harsh additives.
You've taken the time to live a healthy lifestyle full of healthy foods. Do the same with a supplement that will benefit your mind and body and help you stay healthy and energized long into the future.
With more than 30 premium ingredients, Vegan Essentials is the only complete supplement specifically formulated for vegans, with extra support for hair, skin, nails, brain, bones, immunity, and muscle mass. But just as important, Vegan Essentials is made with new MICROGEL maximum absorption technology so you can be sure you're body is getting the nutrients you need to thrive on a plant-based diet.
To your health,
Dr. Vincent Giampapa, MD, FACS
Visiting Scholar, The Sinclair Lab
Harvard University, Boston, MA
Cell Aging Researcher & Author
Director, Cell Health Institute