Vegans & vegetarians

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products so if you choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you are at a much greater risk of becoming B12 deficient if you are not supplementing adequately.

Fortified foods and supplements…

To avoid becoming B12 deficient, you need to obtain vitamin B12 from reliable fortified foods at each meal, or from vitamin B12 supplements. The vitamin B12 component in B12 supplements and fortified foods is sourced from bacterial cultures, it is not taken from animal products and is therefore suitable for your chosen diet.

It is vital to understand that there are no useful plant sources of B12

It is vital to understand that there are no useful plant sources of B12. The foods listed below contain B12 analogues. This is false or pseudo B12 and does not act as vitamin B12 in your body…

  • Seaweed
  • Fermented soy
  • Spirulina
  • Brewers yeast

These analogues (cobamides) can interfere with absorption of true vitamin B12 and disrupt B12 metabolism. Those who choose not to take vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplements are at high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause serious, long-term and irreversible health problems. Children and pregnant women are at an even higher risk due to their greater need for this vitamin.

Remember – vegans and vegetarians who eat foods fortified with B12 and supplement orally could still be at risk of B12 deficiency for many reasons for example if you have inherited genetic or autoimmune B12 absorption problems.

A deficiency could also arise from long-term use of drugs which deplete B12, such as proton pump inhibitors or metformin. In these cases a doctor diagnosing a deficiency, may prescribe low dose oral cyanocobalamin instead of injections which will be completely ineffective.

If the deficiency is caused by a proven dietary lack and the patient is heavily symptomatic, it would still be pertinent for the patient to receive some B12 injections in place of low dose oral cyanocobalamin tablets. This will help to bring B12 levels up far more quickly. Information on testing and treatment can also be found on this site.

Mothers with depleted B12 stores…

Babies who are exclusively breast fed by mothers with depleted stores are at great risk for developmental disability. This is a common cause of B12 problems in infants.

Vegetarian and vegan mothers must ensure they are getting enough B12 in order that their children do not suffer harm due to B12 deficiency. The tragedy is that many doctors fail to screen pregnant and nursing mothers for vitamin B12 deficiency which can then lead to misdiagnoses of intellectual disability or autismwhen the infants lose their speech, social skills and motor skills.

Further information
Dr Zoe Harcombe PhD, has written a fantastic executive summary of the Veganuary campaign detailing the nutrients, including B12, that a vegan diet will miss.
Please also consider watching Zoe’s fact filled

Relevant medical journals.

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