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The spread of speculation and myths around veganism in the world seems to grow at an equal rate to the lifestyle itself. It can feel impossible to try and sort fact from fiction and to establish a real answer to your health related questions, so we’re scoured high and low in the world of nutritionists to bring you a comprehensive blog about B12.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m not a qualified nutritionist, which for this might be a positive. While I don’t have the paperwork myself to back up what I’ve found, I’ve taken into account the opinions of several health professionals when putting together this article for you!
As always, if you have any concerns about your health, make sure you see your own doctor! If you worry you may be deficient in anything, they’ll be able to run blood tests and tailor a treatment plan around your specific needs.
Let’s get back to B12, while as I’ve said, I’m not a healthcare professional who can give you specific advice on this matter, I am a paramedic student. From my own experience, the amount of elderly people who are prescribed a B12 supplement is far higher than the number of elderly vegans, seeing as I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly come across one.
Vitamin B12 isn't made by either animals or plants. It is produced by microbes in the soil. In this day and age, it is hard for us to get this vitamin in our diet. The same applies to meat eaters. This is because millions of years ago, we sourced our diet the same way animals did. We would drink from streams or pull vegetables out the ground and it never occurred to us to wash them. Therefore, we got this vitamin from literally eating dirt.
Now, animals do still get this vitamin from the grass they eat and whatnot. One may assume that as they are eating from the ground and that they are getting this nutrient that it would, therefore, occur in their flesh, right?
Nope, they're not eating enough to give you your vitamin B12 recommended dosage from them and most of it is removed from the meat when cooked anyway.
So vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, omnivores... we're all subject to a vitamin B12 deficiency.
What happens if you don't get enough?
Vitamin B12 is primarily supplementing your immune system. Without enough B12, your body might not be producing enough red blood cells and the red blood cells you do have will be abnormally large and not very efficient. This can lead to some forms of anaemia. This could lead to the following:
Problems with the nervous system
Pretty scary right? So these are the symptoms you need to watch out for:
Pins and needles
A sore, red tongue
Depression or confusion
Problems with memory, understanding or judgement
I apologise to the hypochondriacs out there. Although tiredness, confusion, memory loss, lack of understanding and judgement is all just part of a regular day for me! I'm taking supplements so those are just character traits, unfortunately...
How to get vitamin B12
You will find that some foods are fortified with vitamin B12 such as yeast extract, breakfast cereals and soya products.
However, experts such as Michael Greger and Michael Klaper say that the cleanest, safest, cheapest and most reliable source of vitamin B12 is in supplements. There is a stigma surrounding supplements that they are "unnatural" and if we're having to take them, we're obviously not doing something right.
This isn't the case. It's a sad situation that current agricultural practices are wiping out our natural sources of this through sanitation. We could consider this unnatural in itself. This doesn't just come down to a vegan diet, everyone should be taking a B12 supplement to get their recommended intake.
Which Brand is Best?
This is a lengthy question, but the easy answer realistically is that it doesn’t really matter! You can take just a B12 supplement or you could take a complete multivitamin. Whatever your requirements, there will be a multivitamin out there to suit you.
As with most medical things, it can be a bit more comforting to stick to a reputable brand, so this one from The Vegan Kind Supermarket is perfect for just that, and with all 5* reviews, you know it’s good.