Be sure about Vitamin B12 | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Be sure about Vitamin B12

Be sure about Vitamin B12

By Dr Justine Butler, Viva! Senior Researcher and Writer

Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells and keeps the nervous system healthy. A deficiency can lead to extreme tiredness, lack of energy, pins and needles, muscle weakness, depression and impaired memory, understanding and judgement. It can lead to raised levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Everyone needs a reliable source of this important vitamin. Vegans and ALL people over 50 should take a supplement or ensure they get enough from fortified foods. That sounds like a bold statement but mild B12 deficiency is not uncommon in the UK – regardless of diet.

The B12 for supplements (cyanocobalamin) is grown in large industrial vats and is used to fortify breakfast cereal, soya milk, vegan margarine and so on. Surprisingly, most of it is given to farmed animals because they don’t get enough from their diet. So much for the argument that you need animal foods to get B12.

Traditionally, humans and animals got B12 from food contaminated with the soil-based bacteria that produce it. In a modern, sanitised world, we all need a little extra help.

Viva!Health recommends an intake of 5μg per day from fortified foods with the regular use of supplements to ensure topping up. B12 is harder to absorb from meat than supplements or fortified foods as it is attached to animal protein. Acid first has to remove it from the animal protein and then it must bind to a different protein – called intrinsic factor.

Ability to absorb B12 declines with age. Loss of intrinsic factor and a decline in acid production are the two main factors that affect B12 absorption from meat.

Fortified breakfast cereal, soya milk, vegan spread and yeast extract contain B12. Simply use fortified soya milk on cereals and sprinkle nutritional yeast flakes on pasta. Have the occasional fortified soya yoghurt (eg Alpro). Top up once or twice a week with a supplement to ensure you’re getting enough.

Plant foods, fermented soya foods and seaweeds do not provide a reliable source of B12.

B12 intake among vegans is increasing through their routine consumption of fortified foods and supplements and they are less likely to experience age-related deficiency. A well-planned vegan diet provides a healthier and safer source of B12.

For more information see www.vivahealth.org.uk.