Vitamin B12 is indispensable in any vegan or vegetarian diet. But do we need supplementation? The answer is definitely yes.
Some of the most frequently asked questions when we transition to a fully plant-based diet regard vitamin B12.
Although it is possible to follow a completely healthy and balanced vegan diet as long as it is properly planned, we still do need to focus on vitamin B12.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that comes from bacteria. Animals would originally get it from pastures, but nowadays most of them are farm animals and live far from the natural soil.
Therefore, although you can find vitamin B12 in meat, it does not naturally come from it, as it is artificially added to the animals’ feed.
Vitamin B12 benefits
Vitamin B12 helps our brain and nervous system work properly. It also participates in the creation of red blood cells and in DNA synthesis.
What happens if I have vitamin B12 deficiency?
The main consequences of a lack of B12 due to not supplementation are:
- Pernicious anemia, causing fatigue and weakness in mild cases but digestive problems, cardiac insufficiency, and neurological disorders in more serious cases.
- Memory loss, arms and legs numbness, and difficulty walking.
Some of the neurological symptomatology can be irreversible.
But my doctor says my blood tests are fine
B12 levels are usually checked through blood tests, but sometimes these levels appear in the correct range even if there’s a deficiency.
Why? Because you may have recently eaten (or you regularly eat) analogous* of B12 (like seaweed), so the blood test results seem correct when actually they are not.
*Analogous are very similar structures to the original vitamin but do not have the same effect on our body, so if we consume them regularly our blood tests will come out as correct even if we have a lack of B12.
So how do I know if I actually have vitamin B12 deficiency?
In a blood test, methylmalonic acid levels come out high if we have a B12 deficiency, but it is sometimes difficult to access this specific test.
Therefore, another good option would be to determine what levels of homocysteine we have because they also come out high if we lack vitamin B12. In that case, it would be best to consult a nutritionist and see how to proceed.
How much vitamin B12 should I take?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who are older than 14 should take 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 per day. However, the recommended dose for pregnant people is 2.6 mcg/day and 2.8 mcg/day for nursing mothers.
On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends 4 mcg/day for people who are older than 14, 4.5 mcg/day for pregnant people, and 5 mcg/day for nursing mothers.
How to take vitamin B12
There are two types of vitamin B12: cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is more stable and can resist light and temperature changes better, and is also more affordable.
For example, you can get a jar of vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) that contains 100 pills for 10-14$ and it will last for about 1 year and a half.
As for the dose needed, it depends on how you want to take it (it can either be a pill or in liquid form). There are 3 different options:
- 1 dose of 2000 mcg every week.
- 2 doses of 1000 mcg every week.
- 1 dose of 100 mcg every day.
This vitamin does not have any correlation between doses because the more of it you take, the less is absorbed.
REMEMBER: there is a sublingual pill that needs to be dissolved under your tongue, so please do not swallow it like a regular pill!
When to take vitamin B12
Feel free to take your vitamin B12 whenever you find it more convenient. You can either have it with an empty stomach or with any meal.
Which vitamin B12 is best?
These are some of the vitamin B12 brands that are suitable for vegan people (this is not sponsored):
- Source Naturals (2000 mcg)
- 21st Century (1000 mcg and 2500 mcg)
- Solgar (100 mcg, 500 mcg, 1000 mcg, and 2500 mcg)
- Solgar (liquid*, 1 ml = 2000 mcg)
- Nature’s Answer (liquid*, 1 ml = 1000 mcg)
*Liquid types are recommended for children as they are easily administered.
Where can I buy vitamin B12?
You can either get vitamin B12 at some physical stores or online. However, you’ll find that it is more affordable if you buy it through iHerb.com.
If it’s your first time using this site, you can use my discount code JWT081 for a 5% discount on your first purchase and I’ll get a little discount on my next purchase.
Or you could also use this link: https://www.iherb.com/?rcode=JWT081.
Do I still need to take vitamin B12 supplements even if I eat seaweed and fortified foods?
Absolutely. No matter what you eat, in any kind of vegan or vegetarian diet, it is IMPERATIVE that you take vitamin B12 supplements.
As for seaweed, most of it contains B12 analogous instead of vitamin B12. Remember that analogous are similar structures to the original vitamin but that do not have the same effect on our body.
On the other hand, although chlorella (a type of seaweed) has been proved to contain vitamin B12, there is not enough evidence to recommend it as a reliable source of this vitamin.
And if we were to obtain the proper amount of vitamin B12 through fortified foods, we would have to eat a huge amount of them and we would end up not consuming other foods with better nutritional values.
Can vitamin B12 cause acne?
Although an excess of vitamins can cause some skin problems, it most likely will not happen with vitamin B12. As it is water-soluble, any excess vitamin is eliminated through urine. It is currently safe to take high doses of cyanocobalamin without having any issues.
I have been vegan for years and I don’t know if I have a vitamin B12 deficiency. What should I do?
In that case, it is recommended to consult a specialist (doctor or nutritionist) to see if you have B12 deficiency or not.
I have read that I have to take 1 vitamin B12 pill every day. Is it correct?
Only people who have a lack of vitamin B12 should be taking 1 pill every day. If you do not have this deficiency, you just need to take 1 dose of 2000 mcg every week or 2 doses of 1000 mcg each every week.
However, if you suspect that you may be suffering from a lack of B12 because you have been following a vegan or vegetarian diet for quite some time, it is recommended to check it out with a specialist.
Do I need to see a doctor or a nutritionist to take vitamin B12?
If you think you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency, please consult your doctor. If that is not the case, there is no need to see a specialist to take vitamin B12 supplements.
However, for children, it is always recommended to consult a nutritionist. In the following table, you will find the general values of supplementation that they need depending on their age.
In children, we do recommend daily supplementation prior to weekly supplementation to guarantee the total absorption of vitamin B12.
On the other hand, for children under 6 months supplementation is not necessary as long as the mother takes supplements, as they will obtain their daily dose of vitamin B12 through breast milk.
Here you will also find the required supplementation values during pregnancy and lactation.
The above table has been modified because supplementation was previously only based on doses believed to be necessary according to the IOM. It has now been updated to take into account those of the EFSA.
There are two doses in each box; the first one belongs to the IOM, while the second one belongs to the EFSA. Ideally, you should take a dose of vitamin B12 that is within that range, but it should be closer to the EFSA recommendations.
As for 14-year-old or older people, if they are currently taking 2000 mcg of vitamin B12 weekly, they can finish their current jar first and then buy supplements of 2500 mcg or 3000 mcg. However, you can also continue taking the 2000 mcg dose as it has been proved to be effective.
That being said, if you are doubting whether you should take the recommended supplementation according to the IOM or the EFSA parameters, we recommend that you go with the second one.
The EFSA considers the necessary dose of B12 to treat deficiencies and also bases its recommendations on a combination of biomarkers that indicate the cobalamin levels in the body.
In conclusion, do I have to take vitamin B12 supplements?
Absolutely yes. Whether you are following a 100% plant-based diet or you do eat eggs, dairy, and honey (but not meat), vitamin B12 supplementation is ALWAYS imperative.
With that and a properly planned and balanced diet, you will be able to avoid neurological problems that can be irreversible.