Vegans, myself included, are constantly asked with concern, from those outside the vegan bubble, about how we maintain adequate nutrients by eating a plant based diet. Instead of worrying about their cholesterol, diabetes or chronic sickness like heart disease that is linked to a diet of processed animal products, they are worried about my levels of protein or calcium. I find myself explaining over and over again, how eating an organic wholefoods plant based diet should cover all one’s nutritional needs. Except one. Vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is needed for red blood cell formation, neurological functions and DNA synthesis. It plays a crucial role in production and maintenance of the myelin surrounding our nerve cells. This is, in fact, how I personally discovered the importance of this Vitamin. In late 2009 and early 2010, I had a serious injury that caused nerve damage. My right leg was numb and I felt like I was walking (and skating) on a wooden stick. I had been vegan for over a year, and quite possibly had low levels of Vitamin B12 before that as well. After months of medication for the nerve issue, nothing seemed to be improving so I began researching alternative medicine myself. This is how I discovered Vitamin B12, and the healing properties of food through Holistic Nutrition.
The body doesn’t naturally produce this vitamin and B12 deficiency is very serious and can lead to anemia and permanent nerve damage. It is also currently being studied as a link to depression and motivation as well. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria that some animals have living in their gut. This is how omnivores would get this nutrient. It is only synthesized by microorganisms and it is not available in plant sources.
The only reliable source of Vitamin B12 in a plant based diet comes from fortified foods, such as cereals and soy or nut milks. To get enough B12 from fortified foods, you would need to eat them at least twice a day, maybe even 3 times. You may also find small amounts in nutritional yeast, spirulina and mushrooms, but the list pretty much stops there.
Now before I start receiving messages like “See, vegans can’t survive on plants alone. They are missing key nutrients”, let me be clear. More than 15% of the population is estimated to be lacking in Vitamin B12, as this can occur with ANY diet. We could all afford a little bit more love from Vitamin B12 moving forward. Supplementation is safe and inexpensive.
Who needs a Vitamin B12 supplement?
Vegans, vegetarians, diabetics, alcoholics, people over the age of 50 and those who live a high stress life are all recommended to supplement B12.
Warning Signs of Deficiency:
- Muscle Weakness
- Pins and Needles Feeling from nerve damage
- Vision Damage
- Low Energy
- Poor Memory
I credit my B12 supplementation to helping heal the nerve damage in my leg in 2010. When I stopped taking the prescribed medicine, and I began supplementing and focusing on alternative measures, it greatly improved and has not come back again. For any new vegans or vegetarians out there, don’t let this be ignored! You need a supplement of B12 of at least 10 mg per day. For everyone else, get your B12 levels checked on your next bloodwork and see if it is time for you to begin as well!