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The truth about vitamin B12 in vegan diet

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in new blood cells production, energy release and healthy nerve system. But vegans may struggle to consume its appropriate levels, as the main sources of vitamin B12 are animal products. What ways do we have to avoid dangerous deficiency?

When our bodies do not absorb enough vitamin B12, they may over time develop deficiency which expose them to a number of risks. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia. One of its effects may be lack of energy and extreme tiredness. But less commonly known symptoms may also include mental changes such as problem with memory, or even depression. Having so wide impact on our body, eating enough of vitamin B12 is very important but where to find it?

NHS recommends that adults consume 1.5 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. It may not seem a lot. But the problem is that this vitamin does not occur naturally in plants. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and can be found e.g. in unsanitised water. Not many people would choose this way of getting their daily dose of B12. And because of the use of pesticides and modern hygienic processes, the plants we consume do not contain much of this vitamin. Instead, all the main sources of vitamin B12 recommended by the NHS are meat and animal products. This is because animals are less fussy about sanitation and they accumulate vitamin B12 in their bodies. The NHS website names vegan diet as one of the possible reasons of B12 deficiency and suggests that supplementation may be needed.

Luckily it is possible to obtain vitamin B12 without turning into animal products. Some vegan products such as cereals, soya drinks or yeast extracts get fortified, what means that vitamin B12 is added to them. In similar way, vitamin B12 can also be obtained from vitamin supplements. Look for its form called cyanocobalamin, which is a natural form suitable for vegans. This form is actually easier to absorb than vitamin B12 from animal products.

In addition, seaweed and mushroom can be a source of vitamin B12 and even if eating them may not be enough to fully meet our daily needs for the vitamin, it is a good idea to add them to your diet.

Vitamin B12 gets absorbed in a complicated process through stomach. Alcohol can impact the enzymes which are needed for its absorption so take it easy on a Friday night.

Another factor relates to your level of vitamin B9 (called folate, or folic acid in its synthetic version). Both the vitamins, although from the same family, have a complicated relation. Vitamin B9 helps in red blood production. It can help to increases absorption of B12 to some extent, and so vitamin B12 should be taken together with folic acid. However, too much of folic acid can act opposite, masking B12 deficiency of increasing its deficiency effects, so folic acid should not exceed 1000 mcg daily.

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