Are vegans at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency?
The question of eating only plant food is still debated, in particular because of the risks of deficiencies it causes. As vitamin B12, an essential nutrient, is mainly found in proteins of animal origin, i.e., meat, fish, milk and eggs, questions are raised as to whether a vegetarian or vegan diet can provide complete nourishment. If not, is taking dietary supplements the only solution?
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 belongs to the family of B vitamins which are not stored by the body in sufficient quantity, unlike the other so-called ‘fat-soluble’ (A, D, E, K) vitamins. However, it is vital for the human body since it contributes to the normal functioning of the brain and the formation of blood. As humans cannot make it on their own, the stock of Vitamin B12 is replenished in the body when we eat the flesh of herbivores. Raised in the open air, these animals find dirt in the soil, faecal matters or insects which are transformed in their stomach into vitamin B12. But the diet of farm animals is no longer the same today, they must systematically be supplemented. Nutritionists recommend a daily dose of vitamin B12, via animal products or artificially, by taking Vitamin B12 supplements to avoid any deficiencies.
Can vegans do without natural B12?
In most cases, the daily consumption of eggs and dairy products helps to meet the needs of vegetarians. Regarding vegans (whose diet excludes all animal products), there are several solutions to avoid the deficiency. The first is to take vitamin B12 tablets. The second solution is to consume foods enriched in B12 such as vegetable milks, soy desserts or even breakfast cereals.
Without B12 in our body, we will have problems with the replication of our cells. This can cause anaemia, risks of cardiovascular disorders, or even general damage to the nervous system. One could even wonder about the link between Alzheimer’s disease and deficiencies of this vitamin. In addition, the diet of people at increased risk of deficiency (children, pregnant women, the elderly) should be monitored very closely by a health specialist, especially if they follow a vegan diet.
Are these tablets safe?
The excess intake of vitamin B12 is eliminated through urine, with no revealed toxicity. We are having at least twenty years of hindsight on the Vitamin B12 supplements, and we have not seen any side effects. Some independent laboratories, concerned about health and the environment, produce certified vegan products, supplements authorised during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or gluten, lactose and soy free supplements for people allergic to those elements. In fact, the greater risk for the general population is not the taking of these supplements but consuming more animal products which are being over-consumed. Eating too much meat would cause the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Telling people to cut back on meat products is the need of the hour. A message that is gradually being heard all over the world.