You’ve probably heard about the importance of vitamin B-12 and that most people are very deficient, especially vegans. Yes, it’s true that vitamin B-12 is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies around the world today. Unfortunately, vegans are some of the most susceptible to this deficiency.
Vitamin B-12 is essential for your body, brain, and nervous system to function optimally. It assists your body in DNA production, cell metabolism, nerve function, red bloods cell formation and brain functions. Your body doesn’t make vitamin B-12 so you have to get it from your diet or supplements.
Let’s discuss why this vitamin is so important, where it comes from, and how to get our B-12 levels tested.
Where Does Vitamin B-12 Come From?
So, where does vitamin B-12 come from? Good question! You might be surprised to hear that vitamin B-12 is found in bacteria which live in the soil. When the crops are harvested they are typically rinsed off several times before they make it to the grocery store. And of course most people will rinse off their vegetables again before they eat them. This removes any vitamin B-12 rich soil that was once on the plant. It’s important that we do this because it helps to protect us from parasites and pathogens, but it also strips away any B-12 that was once available on the plants.
Symptoms of B-12 Deficiency
A B-12 Deficiency can cause anemia or nervous system damage. Fortunately, most vegans consume enough vitamin B-12 to avoid anemia and nervous system damage, but many do not get enough to minimize potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications. Other symptoms of B-12 deficiency include:
- Loss of energy
- Reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure
- Blurred vision
- Abnormal gait
- Sore tongue
- Poor memory
- Personality changes.
It’s important to remember that each of these symptoms can have other causes so if you suspect that you might have a B-12 deficiency make sure to see a qualified medical practitioner so that they can properly diagnose you.
Why Do Meat Eaters Get More B-12?
The reason meat eaters tend to get higher amounts of vitamin B-12 when compared to vegans is because they eat animals, which in turn eat plants, which still contain vitamin rich soil on them. The animal eats the plants and then the vitamin B-12 gets deposited into the animal’s tissue which is then consumed. So, even though animals tend to have higher levels of vitamin B-12, most people still don’t get adequate amounts by eating animal meat alone.
Proper Dosage of Vitamin B-12
So, how do we increase our B-12 levels and what is the proper dosage? Fortunately, achieving an adequate amount of B12 is easy and there are several methods to suit individual preferences. Unfortunately, vitamin B-12 isn’t absorbed very well. In fact, only about 50% of it will be absorbed by your body. This is important to consider when considering dosage levels.
The proper dosage of B-12 depends on age, eating habits, medical conditions, and what medications you take. The national recommendations for B12 intake vary significantly from country to country. The US recommends an intake of 2.4 micrograms a day for ordinary adults while rising to 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers. The Germans recommend more, 3 micrograms of vitamin B-12 per day. Here are the recommended dosages according to age:
- Infants up to age 6 months: 0.4 mcg
- Babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg
- Children age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
- Kids age 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
- Children age 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
- Teens age 14-18: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
- Adults: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
How to Increase Levels of Vitamin B-12
It is important to remember that low levels of vitamin B-12 can be very dangerous. If you are not eating fortified foods or supplementing with B-12, it will be difficult to maintain healthy B-12 levels. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breast feeding than it is especially important to make sure that you are getting adequate levels of B-12 and getting your B-12 levels checked annually.
You don’t have to be a meat eater to get good sources of vitamin B-12. In fact, vegans who supplement with B-12 and eat fortified foods are much less likely to suffer from a B12 deficiency than the typical meat eater. Some popular vegan sources of vitamin B-12 include:
- Fortified cereals
- Nutritional yeast (nooch)
- almond milk (fortified)
- Coconut milk (fortified)
- Soy milk (fortified)
- Hemp milk (fortified)
- Tofu (fortified)
- Fortified water (Hapi Water)
- Fortified nutrition bars (Luna bar)
Also, supplementing with a high quality probiotic may improve the absorption of vitamin B-12.
How to Test B-12 Levels
As far as testing goes, blood B-12 level is a very unreliable test for vegans. Blood counts also tend to be unreliable as high folate intake will suppress the anemia symptoms of B12 deficiency that can be detected by blood counts. Blood homocysteine testing is much more reliable.
However, the most specific test for measuring B12 levels is methylmalonic acid (MMA) testing. Unfortunately, many doctors still focus on blood B-12 levels and blood counts. These are not adequate testing measures, especially in vegans. Make sure to talk with your doctor about getting your vitamin B-12 levels checked and ask about the most accurate test available.
Have you had your B-12 levels tested?