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Vitamin B12


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File:Kombucha.jpg
Kombucha is considered by some as a good source of vitamin B12, although such information is not supported by scientific data.

Vitamin B12 is a very important vitamin for our normal functioning of nervous system and blood formation. It is generally agreed that there are no unfortified vegan foods that can be considered reliable sources of this vitamin. That includes fermented foods such as tempeh, miso or sauerkraut, seaweeds, yeast, etc. Vitamin B12 is required in very small quantities. However, even if requirements are very low, missing it may have important and long term bad consequences.

Do vegans need B12 supplements?

The question whether vegans need to use vitamin B12 supplements remains controversial and complex. Some long-term vegans do not show any signs of B12 deficiency even after decades of no significant consumption of B12 supplements, while others need regular use of supplements to be optimally healthy. There are different theories why that happens, ranging from B12 production by bacteria in our digestive tract to getting enough B12 with some types of food that might have the vitamin in some conditions.

For those vegans who want to stay on a safe side, it is recommended to use B12 supplements on a regular basis. Vegan B12 tablets are produced by using controlled fermentation process and their production do not require any animal use or animal ingredients.

Consequences of low B12

Even if requirements are very low, missing B12 in the diet may have important and long term negative consequences. But more than other vitamins (B12 is not technically a vitamin though it is commonly referred to that way), the question of the replacement of animal B12 is complex, and can sometimes have several contradictory answers.

For some people (even vegans) B12 can only be found in animal products. Vegans, who accept this premise, supplement their diet with B12 tablets. For others, B12 deficiency resulting from veganism is a myth as some bacteria are producing B12 directly in our digestive system. However, a B12 deficiency can also be caused by an inability to absorb B12. Some people may have acceptable levels of B12 in the blood but are unable to absorb the nutrient.

B12 issue beyond veganism

It is important to note that vegans are not the only ones who suffer from B12 deficiency. Studies have shown that a significant percentage of the American population is deficient in B12. This indicates that the issue goes beyond veganism. Many vegans begin with a strong desire to get back to nature in terms of diet. This often leads to a strong resistance among vegans to any kind of supplementation. However it is important to recognize that the foods we eat from the environment we live in today are quite a bit different at least for most of us from the ones we evolved on so long ago. There used to be much higher B12 content in soils and consequently water also. Aside from the small few who are actually growing their own foods with an emphasis on sophisticated composting most of us are not getting B12 from our food or water.

While some believe they are doing fine without B12, be advised that it can take many years before the bad symptoms of B12 deficiency begin to arise. And due to the possible damage to the nervous system, vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters are wise to take the issue seriously.

Supplement options

As mentioned above a commonly accepted way to get B12 is to use a supplement. There are two common options in the sublingual form. Sublingual is a preferred method for B12 supplementation as there are B12 receptors underneath the tongue. The full chemical name for B12 is cobalamin. The two types of sublingual cobalamin are the cyano and methyl. While both work the methyl is the preferred choice. Many find that oral supplementation does the job of providing enough B12. Others need to look further.

B12 injections

Another option for B12 or cobalamin supplementation is injections. One can administer the injections to oneself if not squeamish or get a health practitioner to do the job. Those who supplement with injections take one injection once a month. It is worth noting there that many vegan and meat eating athletes make a point to regularly do B12 injections which studies show enhances physical performance. It is also common that when doctors find B12 deficiency in a patient they proscribe several successive injections until blood levels normalize at which time the patient will then shift to the once a month shot. The only way to really know if you are low in B12 is to get tested. This is generally done if you get a full panel blood test but the commonly used test for B12 is not very reliable. If you want to be certain, make sure you get the umma test which tests the urine for B12. Know that different countries have different base lines in terms of what is a healthy level of B12. Japan has the highest standard with a recommended minimum of 550 pg/ml.

See also the Veganwiki article about health.

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