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How to Avoid A Vitamin B12 Deficiency: A Guide for Vegans

Updated on March 7, 2015
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The role of Vitamin B12 in our body

Vitamin B12 has an important function in our body. It is responsible for the formation of red blood cells, the active cell division and the formation of new cells. Thus, it is essential for survival. According to many experts, nearly the whole population is affected by a Vitamin B12 deficiency including people adhering to a vegan diet.

Although Vitamin B12 is generated in the human intestinal tract, it cannot be utilized by our organism in a useful way. Thus, we have to take in B12 through the food we eat. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver for a very long time and is used up very slowly. Therefore, the symptoms of a deficiency often only occur several years later, at least in the case of adults. If not treated, the symptoms can lead to irreversible damages.

What is a vegan diet?

Contrary to the vegetarian diet, which doesn’t permit the consumption of fish and meat, a vegan diet additionally prohibits the intake of milk products, honey and other animal-derived products. Generally, a vegan diet is believed to cause a deficiency of Vitamin B12 due to which many people question this type of nutrition.

Parents Raising Their Parents Vegan

Are more vegans affected by B12 deficiencies than people eating meat?

No. Often, an overconsumption of meat and milk products can make the absorption of the vitamin difficult. Although animal proteins contain B12, a meat-based diet tends to lead to gastric hyperacidity which causes damage to the gastrinal and intestinal mucosa in the long term. Consequently, the B12 contained in meat cannot be absorbed anymore. In the worst cases, supplements cannot remedy the deficiency and eating great amounts of meat, cheese and eggs leads to no result. Patients require injections of B12 in this case. However, the majority of the population never finds out about their lack of Vitamin B12 and symptoms are often interpreted incorrectly.

This does not mean that vegans cannot experience deficiencies. But often, nutrition-conscious vegans and their families are the ones who pay attention to their B12 level and use supplements to avoid experiencing potential deficiencies. Nutritionists and dieticians advise vegans to make sure they are taking in a sufficient dietary supply of B12. Critics of a vegan lifestyle claim that as the body cannot be supplied with a sufficient amount of B12 in a natural way, a vegan nutrition cannot be healthy or natural. However, in the past, micro-organisms that produce Vitamin B12 were found on fruits and vegetables and vegans were able to take in Vitamin B12 naturally. It is believed that our ancestors took in Vitamin B12 by eating unwashed fruits. Nowadays, these micro-organisms are killed by hygienic agricultural and industrial methods that destroy the natural bacterial environment. The chemical-based agricultural approach and our depleted soils are also a major contributing factor to this phenomenon. This is why the possibility of supplementing B12 through natural sources at the present time is excluded by most exports. Humans are changing the environment too much and destroying all possible natural sources of B12.

Facts about Vitamin B12

How can a deficiency be detected?

A B12 deficiency is widespread across the entire population. However, it is often not detected. The reason for this is that regular blood tests do not reveal the Vitamin B12 level in the blood and doctors rarely inform their patients about the necessity to measure this value. A regular blood serum analysis should be carried out together with an analysis of the homocysteine value. It was found that these analyses in combination can be used to draw conclusions as to the B12-value in the human body. The B12 test alone additionally measures worthless B12 analogues which falsify the result.

Indian Vegetarian Dish

So why are vegans not suffering as much from B12 deficiencies, contrary to the general public opinion?

There are two reasons why vegans are not the main group suffering from B12 deficiencies. The first is that they pay attention to their B12 level and make sure to supplement their diet. Second of all, they have a healthy intestinal tract and Vitamin B12 can be absorbed easily by the body as the intestinal flora is healthy and at balance.

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    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 

      3 years ago from Southeast USA

      Great hub

    • Jennifer Madison profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Madison 

      5 years ago from Lohmar

      I am glad you found the article useful Distant Mind! Good luck on becoming vegan, I am taking that path myself but going slowly and gradually eliminating all animal products.

    • Distant Mind profile image

      Distant Mind 

      5 years ago

      Interesting hub. I'm considering going vegan, so I'll take all of this into account.

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