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B12 Supplementation

Science, not Mythology

Natalie Shemesh | Registered Dietitian

A plant-based diet provides all the vitamins and minerals you need, except for one – vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 originates from bacteria that are found in soil, dirt, feces and non-purified water. Apparently, in the distant past, B12 sources were unclean food and non-purified water. Nowadays, we’ve eliminated dysentery, cholera and other infectious diseases, a welcome advancement on our part, but we have also lost a reliable source of B12.

  • Why is vitamin B12 important? It prevents anemia and keeps our nervous system healthy. A lack of vitamin B12 may lead to nerve and brain damage.
  • So, how can we get vitamin B12? The only reliable source of B12 in a vegan diet is a supplement, produced from those same bacteria (don't worry; B12 supplements are not animal by-products). It is best to use a sublingual B12 supplement and not rely on multivitamins that contain b12, because their dosage is typically too small. Contrary to rumors that are being spread on Facebook and all over the internet, it is *impossible* to get B12 via spirulina, fermented foods, nutritional yeast, or any other plant-based food. 
  • It's pretty simple: Studies show time and time again that vegans have low B12 levels if they do not take a supplement, and have sufficient B12 levels when they do. So, the solution is simple – just take B12. It should be noted that vitamin B12 deficiency also prevails in humans who eat meat, especially in people over 50 years old, due to its complex absorption mechanism. It's also important to know that vitamin B12 supplements typically have no side effects. They are water soluble and have no tolerable upper intake level, so don't worry about taking B12 supplements if you don't have a deficiency – they don't build up or pose a health risk.
  • Which type of supplement is best? All the supplements on the market are suitable, and they all typically contain high dosages of the vitamin (500-5000 mcg) because of its complex absorption mechanism. 
  • How much of the vitamin B12 supplement should you take? For people with no deficiency – a 1000 mcg sublingual supplement 2-3 times a week should be enough. For pregnant and lactating women, a daily intake is recommended to maintain a steady supply for the fetus/baby. Individuals with deficiencies are usually advised to supplement on a daily basis, but should consult with a doctor or a dietitian.

 

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