Do Vegans really need to take Vitamin B12?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that is produced by microbes (bacteria) on the earth. These bacteria are consumed by animals and then they live and multiply in their intestinal tract. Animals have special enzymes that can synthesize this vitamin which then ends up being absorbed and stored in their muscles. This happens in humans too! But in modern day it is generally in very small amounts and not absorbed well by our bodies. Even for humans that do consume meat and animal products, after the age of 50, older adults may not absorb the vitamin well. For this reason, vitamin B12 is present in most general multivitamins.
Vitamin B12 is important for the production of our blood cells and is used by our nervous system as well. Deficiency can cause anemia, tingling in the hands and feet, fatigue, and other neurologic symptoms, some of which are serious and some which may be irreversible.
The good news is that for those who eat a completely or mostly plant-based diet, it is really easy to avoid deficiency of vitamin B12. Many foods are fortified with vitamin B12 (such as some brands of plant milk, nutritional yeast, and tofu), but the most reliable way to ensure adequate B12 levels is to take a supplement in the form of cyanocobalamin.
Vegan moms should continue to take their B12 supplement during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In addition, babies born to vegan moms should be supplemented from birth.
To simplify dosing I have the following recommendations:
- For children 8 and younger, I recommend 500 mcg three times per week.
- For children 9 and older, I recommend 1000 mcg three times per week.
- Adults above 65 should take a daily dose of 500-1000 mcg.
Alternatively, children can take a daily children’s multivitamin and then supplement with an additional dose of B12 once per week or 250 mcg per day. This may be best for families that find that taking a daily vitamin is easier to remember than a twice-weekly dose.
B12 supplements can be found in chewable, sublingual, tablet and liquid forms and it is best to take it on an empty stomach for maximum absorption.
There is no upper level of B12 that is known to cause toxicity and luckily Vitamin B12 supplements are very affordable!
So it’s really not a bad idea for ALL humans to take a B12 supplement, but it’s especially important for those that are eating a plant-based diet and all adults over the age of 50.