Vitamin B12 & supplements

Guide de survie en société - Social & dietary survival tips

B12 vitamin or cobalamin, is an essential vitamin for our body and for the nervous system. A deficiency of this vitamin can have dangerous consequences and unluckily, we can’t find enough of it in plants.

Therefore, it is the only element you must absolutely supplement yourself with and this, whether you are a vegetarian or a vegan.

For more information about plant-based diets, visit our pages: Protein & Lipids, iron, calcium and others in our Nutrition section.

If your previous diet was omnivorous, you are not supposed to have a B12 deficiency yet and you are supposed to have a good stock.
By changing your diet, your body is going to start picking the B12 into your stocks if you don’t take supplements. Our reserves are usually important; therefore it will take a while before getting empty, but they will definitely after a few months or years.

Contrary to what we often think, you must supplement yourself with B12 even if you are a vegetarian. The vitamin B12 you can find into dairies and eggs is not enough to fulfil your daily needs.

CONSEQUENCES OF A VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY

A B12 deficiency causes anaemia and neurological symptoms (nervous system damage): tingling sensations, numbness, decrease of sensitivity to pain or pressure.

FAKE SOURCES OF B12

You might hear that there are some plants that contain B12 such as spirulina, chlorella and seaweed. However, these sources are not convenient.
Those foods contain molecules that are similar to B12 (analogue molecules) but they don’t have the same properties.

As a consequence, they are not a reliable source of B12 in a plant-based diet.


HOW CAN I KNOW IF I HAVE A B12 DEFICIENCY ?

Complicated and sensitive subject.

Medicinal knowledge on people that are « naturally » B12 deficient is quite developed. However, when it comes to a deficiency or to prevention due to plant-based diets, information (at least in Europe) is more blurred.

First, there are 2 ways of testing your deficiency :
– Blood testing
– Urine testing


According to the FRENCH VEGETARIAN ASSOCIATION, the most reliable test for vegans and vegetarians is the urine test.

Explanations:
According to the association, the most reliable test is based on the dosage of the concentration of methylmalonic acid (MA) in urine. This is a test you can do in an analysis laboratory. Indeed, a raise in the synthesis of this MA is a sign of B12 deficiency. In practice, this test is rarely prescribed because it is not very well-known. Doctors tend to prescribe the blood test. However, this technic can bring to fake results: some foods bring analogue molecules that will be spotted as B12 when they don’t have the same biological effects (the body can’t use them). The blood analysis can therefore give a falsely reassuring result, indicating a normal B12 level when they are mostly inactive molecules.
Source (translated) : Association Végétarienne de France https://www.vegetarisme.fr/comment-devenir-vegetarien/alimentation-equilibree/b12/


HOW MUCH B12 DO I HAVE TO TAKE?

The FRENCH VEGETARIAN ASSOCIATION AND THE FRENCH VEGAN ASSOCIATION advise to take either:

  • 1,3 µg of B12, three times a day, with B12 enriched foods, or
  • 10 µg of B12, once a day, or
  • 2 000 µg of B12, once a week, or
  • 5000 µg of B12, once every 2 weeks


CONCLUSION

Supplement yourself anyways!
The good news is that if you take too much, it works just like vitamin C, the body is going to eliminate it so no risk of actually getting too much.

Talk about it to your doctor
During a visit with your doctor, talk about this possible B12 deficiency. He or she might not be totally aware of plant-based diets nutrition or B12 deficiencies in that population because it is a very particular case but you can ask him to prescribe you with a test to check it out. Try to mention the urine test rather than the blood test (not sure it will work but you can try).


OTHER SUPPLEMENTS

Spirulina

Spirulina is a sweaweed but most importantly, a superfood!
It contains :
– a lot of complete protein : 70%
– omega 6
– zinc, manganese, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium …
It is antioxidant and favours the production of red blood cells

It exists under several forms: powder, shavings, pills.
Each form has a different absorption rate. Not matter your diet, it will bring you excellent nutrients anyways.

Be careful however not to heat it, otherwise it loses its properties.
Be careful again, if you get it in powder or shavings, its taste is very specific. We warned you 😊

Beer yeast

Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, copper and potassium, 17 vitamins (B and E), and 14 types of mineral salts. You got it, beer yeast is full of good things. Finally, it reinforces the immune system and helps fight infections.

Those supplements are not necessary if your diet is diversified.
Consider them as optional, they are not only interesting to vegans and vegetarians but to anyone.  

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