The greater majority of vegans and vegetarians, those that eat a strictly plant-based diet, omitting all animal products including eggs and milk has a significantly higher chance of having a vitamin B-12 deficiency. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports, 92% of vegans are at risk of developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
The main source of vitamin B-12 in our diets is animal-derived products. It was reported in the same journal in comparison to the 92% of vegans who were at risk of developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency, only 5% of meat-eaters were at risk. The massive difference in percentage is due to the fact that animal-derived products stand as the most reliable means of naturally acquiring vitamin B-12 from a diet.
Vegetarians have it easy, they usually consume dairy and eggs, even though they don’t consume meat, which still stands as a reliable source for vitamin B-12. Diary and eggs are loaded with vitamin B-12 and is considered one of the simplest ways to acquire vitamin B-12 on a vegetarian diet.
However, when it comes to vegans, they don’t consume any animal-derived products, which includes eggs and dairy. This significantly increases the chances of developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency; as observed with the whopping 92% of the vegan population. Usually, the amounts of vitamin B-12 are in trace quantities in plant-based food in comparison to an animal-derived diet, which is why many vegans opt to take a vitamin B-12 supplementation. We will look at the various sources of vitamin B-12 on a vegan diet, and consider whether as a vegan, would a vitamin B-12 supplementation be recommended. However, before we go into understanding the sources of vitamin B-12 on a vegan diet, it is better to get a clear understanding of what are the various signs and symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
There are various health conditions brought about by a vitamin B-12 deficiency. One of the more prominent symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency is anaemia. This usually follows signs of fatigue, constipation, nausea and most importantly weakness. If you have recently realised that you are starting to feel week, or that you are fatigued and nauseated, this may be due to the fact that you are developing anaemia. If you are developing anaemia, it should be resolved as promptly as possible to prevent long term damage to your body.
When left unattended, a long term vitamin B-12 deficiency could lead to nerve changes. This can lead to various signs that accompany a long term vitamin B-12 deficiency. You could be experiencing numbness in various parts of your body. This could include the tingling in your hands and feet or frequent occurrences of pins and needles. If you been struggling with memory problems and have trouble remembering things, this could be a sign that you are suffering from a long term vitamin B-12 deficiency. A vitamin B-12 deficiency could also affect your cerebellum in your brain, which is responsible for ensuring good balance. If you are finding yourself stumbling or slipping or simply losing balance frequently, then this could be a sign of vitamin B-12 deficiency.
One of the more serious signs that you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency is depression. People with a long term vitamin B-12 deficiency are twice as more likely to develop depression. Research has confidently associated vitamin B-12 and depression. An article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology states these findings as conclusive; the lower the amounts of vitamin B-12 in your body, the greater the chance of developing depression. In fact, the same study identified the role of vitamin B-12 in treating people with depression.
If you have a rapid heart rate without exercise, suffer from exhaustion, have foggy thoughts and concentration or are generally weak, then these could be tell-tell signs that you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Importance of Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is responsible for maintaining healthy nerves. It is also responsible for ensuring good levels of red blood cells in your body. Both these things are essentially needed to make DNA, which is why vitamin B-12 is especially important for women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
As mentioned prior, vitamin B-12 reduces the chances of developing anaemia by promoting the production of red blood cells. It can also help women prevent miscarriages or premature birth. In fact, one study illustrated that a woman on a low vitamin B-12 diet was three to five times more likely to give birth to a child with birth defects. This can be a very scary thought!
Vitamin B-12 has also been linked to bone density and bone health. People with a vitamin B-12 deficiency have lower than normal bone density, which can lead to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. It is also as important for your eyes as it is for your bones. Vitamin B-12 reduces your risk of developing macular degeneration. The risk of age-related vision loss is common, and a diet rich in vitamin B-12 is considered an essential tool in reducing the risk of age-related vision loss due to macular degeneration.
Further to improving your mood, vitamin B-12 is known to suppress depression as mentioned above. It is also an integral component in healthy brain chemistry, thereby preventing instances of memory loss and confusion; it is important for your focus and concentration. It further works to decrease levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. A study illustrated how, vitamin B-12 helps reduce homocysteine levels in your body, thereby reducing your risk of developing a heart condition.
It is also important for healthy skin, hair and nails. This is because vitamin B-12 plays an integral role in cell production. If you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, adding vitamin B-12 by way of supplementation or improved diet could drastically improve the appearance of your skin, hair and nails.
Sourcing Vitamin B-12 on a Vegan Diet
Considered an essential nutrient, as mentioned above, the importance of vitamin B-12 should not be sidestepped. With a greater portion of people assuming that vitamin B-12 can only be acquired through an animal-derived diet, it is important to note the various sources of vitamin B-12 on a plant-based diet. It is most certainly possible to acquire vitamin B-12 on a vegan diet, however, you should work to include as many of the components of this small list, as much as possible.
It is important to keep in mind the daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B-12 when you consider the various sources. This way, you know exactly how much to consume, in order to get the right amount of this vitamin from your diet. Though women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding require a larger amount, an average adult requires about 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 every day. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets the Daily Value (DV) at 6 micrograms for vitamin B-12. We will consider the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) as guidance for the daily required amount of vitamin B-12.
2. Dried Purple Laver
3. Fortified Breakfast Cereals
5. Fortified Plant Milk
6. Nutritional Yeast
Do I Need Vitamin B-12 Supplementation?
If you have trouble sourcing the food that has been mentioned in this article and is finding it difficult to ensure that you are getting the right amount of vitamin B-12 in your diet, then it is wise to consider supplementing your daily requirement of vitamin B-12. You would simply be taking a pill or two every day to ensure that you are getting the correct amounts of vitamin B-12 which as you know is an essential nutrient for your overall wellbeing.
That being the case, if you are able to get your hands on a fortified cereal and some fortified plant milk, then chances are you should be able to get the right amount of vitamin B-12 from your breakfast alone. Hence the question as to whether you require vitamin B-12 supplementation is up to you.
However, when you do consider a vitamin B-12 supplement, especially if you are on a vegan diet, it is important to ensure that the supplement doesn’t contain any animal-based filler materials. Though the supplement is made from fermentation and bacteria, what is troubling is the other things that are added to the supplement.
If you are at risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency or have noticed signs and symptoms of deficiency, then supplementation of B-12 is highly recommended. It would enable you to restore damage caused by the deficiency and regain control over your life.
There are various forms of vitamin B-12 supplementation, some are placed under the tongue, others swallowed, some drunk and a few chewable too. Vitamin B-12 supplements are recommended for people on a plant-based diet who refrain from animal products. Found in various dosages, you could look to take two pills a day or two a week depending on the dose of the supplement. Vitamin B-12 supplements when taken in the appropriate amounts are generally considered safe. Hence you should not be worried about using a supplement. If you consume more than the 2.4 micrograms which is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), then your body simply absorbs everything it needs and expels the excess through your urine.