Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 may be in short supply in vegetarian and vegan diets. What should every vegetarian know about vitamin B12?

Very low B12 consumption can cause anemia or nervous system damage. Most vegetarians get enough to avoid these problems, but not enough to minimize the potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.

This nutrient helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. My Grandmother received B12 shots every month because her low B12 levels caused the anemia that makes people tired and weak.

Only animal products have vitamin B12 naturally.

Find it:

  1. Fortified foods such as plant milks, soy products or breakfast cereals
  2. Supplements
  3. Animal products

If you don't eat fortified foods 2 or 3 times a day, then supplements may be easier. This way, you know you are covered.


Vitamin B12 absorbs better if taken in small increments. A daily dose with 10 micrograms is better than a weekly supplement of 2,000 micrograms. Taking regular supplements may be easier than trying to getting three servings per day. There is no harm in exceeding the recommended amounts or combining the options.

Supplements are more convenient and economical. Read the labels carefully to determine how many pills to take to receive the correct amount. The metric system can get confusing. 2,000 micrograms = 2 milligrams. Be sure and check the label.

A deficiency can cause problems in adults in a year. Taking 10 micrograms per day is as much as the body can use. All vitamin B12 supplements should be chewed or allowed to dissolve in the mouth to assist absorption.

Two subgroups of vegans are at risk of B12 deficiency: long-term raw food vegans and macrobiotic vegans. This occurs because they avoid common fortified foods.

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

These symptoms develop gradually over several months to a year:

  • Loss of energy
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Abnormal gait
  • Sore tongue
  • Poor memory and confusion
  • Personality changes

Infants show a rapid onset of symptoms and can lead to loss of energy and appetite and failure to thrive.

This risk is reason enough to call on all vegans to give a consistent message as to the importance of B12. Take your supplements and don't worry.

Are You Getting Enough?

A simple blood test of B12 levels and blood count ordered by your doctor can give you peace of mind. Don't experiment with your health.

Studies have shown that gut bacteria, spirulina, dried nori, barley grass and most other seaweeds don't provide an adequate supply.

The Institute of Medicine in the US states that 10-30% of people over 50 may not absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12. It is necessary for these older people to consume fortified foods or take supplements. Vegans shouldn't wait until age 50. B12 is never a problem for the well-informed.

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