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Are You Vitamin B12 Deficient? (And Does it Matter?)

Are You Vitamin B12 Deficient? (And Does it Matter?)

Vitamin B 12 deficiency has links to an array of health problems, and many Americans fall short on this critical vitamin.

Vegans are probably pretty familiar with vitamin B12. It’s the only vitamin that you can’t get from unfortified plant-based sources, so if you’re eating a vegan diet, you most likely are either eating B 12 fortified foods or taking a supplement. For vegetarians and omnivores, though, B12 might not be a vitamin you think about on a regular basis.

As you’ll see in the graphic below, animal products contain vitamin B12, and you can also get it through supplements. The only source the graphic below misses is fortified foods. From nutritional yeast to fortified vegan milks and cereals, there are lots of ways to get B12 into your diet without eating animal foods, if that’s your goal.

Related Reading: The Weekend Vegan Challenge

B12 is a hot button issue in the vegan community. Because so many vegans consider ourselves advocates for a vegan lifestyle, too, there’s a hesitation to admit that there are any nutrients that this diet can’t meet. The thing is, it’s pretty tough to find any diet that meets 100 percent of your nutritional needs. I think Ginny Messina, a vegan registered dietician, spells it out best:

“Taking a B12 supplement is the easiest thing in the world. It doesn’t make sense to wait until stores diminish or you are approaching deficiency before you start to supplement. And it certainly is not good vegan advocacy to promote inadequate advice about vitamin B12.”

It turns out that it’s not just vegans who have a hard time meeting vitamin B12 requirements, though. About 2/3 of Americans have low B12 levels, and the effects on your health can be quite serious. Check out this infographic that spells out the signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency:

B12 Deficiency

When I was pregnant my blood work started showing low levels of B12 during my third trimester, even though there was B12 in my prenatal vitamin. Adding a separate B12 supplement on top of my prenatal fixed things up in a matter of weeks. If you think you might be B12 deficient, your best next move is talking to your doctor who can do blood work and let you know what dosage is best for you.

Related Reading: Is it safe to have a vegan pregnancy?

Looking for a vegan B12 supplement? They’re out there! Vegan B12 supplements are made from microorganisms instead of animal products. Brands like Deva make vegan B12 supplements. You can find vegan B12 online and often at brick and mortar stores, too.

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, General Health, Health, Vegetarian, , , , , , ,

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Becky Striepe

Becky Striepe is a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. Her life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Like this article? You can follow Becky on Twitter or find her on Facebook!

496 comments

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6:42AM PDT on May 13, 2015

For those struggling with B12 deficiency, I recently heard about a new oral prescription alternative to the injections called Eligen B12. I recently read that it works even if you don't have intrinsic factor (so even if you don't have normal gut absorption). Apparently it came out a month or two ago. Has anyone heard of it or tried it??

5:18AM PDT on Mar 24, 2015

Since many developing nations are also just aping US food habits, this issue can soon become a global menace.

We need to be aware of the issue and take simple steps in our food habits etc

7:49AM PST on Feb 18, 2015

Thank you!

11:25AM PST on Feb 4, 2015

Same as Seline R. get shots. I have thyroid problems , there is a relation between B12 and the thyroid.If you have thyroid problems let them check your B12 level!

5:19AM PST on Jan 29, 2015

thanks for the information

11:57PM PST on Jan 26, 2015

Very good article.

There are three forms of B-12.

The very worst one is the one included in your multivitamin called cyanocobalamin in a hard tablet form. Difficult for the body to convert.

The very much better forms are sublingual.

The very best one is called Dibencozide. This is often called or referred to, as an "active" B-12. This one does not require any metabolism conversions by the body(remember for every conversion, some of the nutrient is lost). Close to 100% absorption.

The cheaper version, still very much better than the worst form is the other active form called Methylcobalamin.

I use the above(Methylcobalamin) as a sublingual and my blood work for B-12 is perfect.

2:00PM PST on Jan 14, 2015

Thanks for the info! I get B12 shots regularly.

6:33AM PST on Jan 14, 2015

Spam flagged

2:16AM PST on Jan 11, 2015

Thank you. Good Info.

9:48PM PST on Jan 7, 2015

The statement that most diets can't meet all nutritional requirements is in my opinion kind of deceptive. Veganism inherently requires supplementation, there is no way--none--to get adequate B12 otherwise. A non-vegan whole foods eater might find it difficult to hit some of those nutrients without supplements, but it's not impossible.

It's frustrating that so many vegans try to understate the importance of B12 and strikes me as an effort to make veganism look like The Perfect Diet healthwise. But veganism isn't natural to the human species and is not healthy without supplementation. It isn't and never will be. It doesn't *have* to be. Acknowledging veganism to be an ethics-based diet and dropping the weird tendency to assume veganism has no pitfalls and somehow cures everything makes only for short-term vegans.

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