A diet powered by plants needn’t be one that compromises any essential nourishment that you’d otherwise get from animal products. One exception to the rule, however, is vitamin B12. Worry not, though – you’ll find that omnivores are also deficient, and a simple solution lies in oral supplementation. Here’s what you need to know.
Where does vitamin B12 come from?
Otherwise known as cobalamin, B12 is a water-based mineral that comes from micro-organisms found primarily in meat and eggs (as it grows on bacteria). Animals such as cows and sheep absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their digestive system.
Humans once got their vitamin B12 from veggies, when proper sanitation was still to be developed and when the earth’s soil was far healthier, though unfortunately it’s severely depleted these days.
But though animal products may contain B12, it is not instantly absorbable in this form. In order to absorb it, we need protease (a group of enzymes which aid protein digestion) and hydrochloric acid, found in the stomach.
What does vitamin B12 do?
B12 had many vital roles in the body, one of the most important being its role in the formation of red blood cells which transport oxygen. It’s also one of the nutrients essential for breaking down and removing excess homocysteine in the blood (which is produced in the body after digesting protein), in turn reducing inflammation.
The vitamin also bolsters and protects the brain and central nervous system, so is in part responsible for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Not only this, it enhances the immune system and protects against viruses while also facilitating the methylation of many other nutrients.
So in a nutshell, it’s pretty important.
How should vegans get vitamin B12?
First things first, up to 5mg of vitamin B12 can be stored in the liver for a very long time, as the body only needs a minimal 0.2% of B12 to function optimally. So, though vegans don’t consume B12 every day, your reserves can sustain you for some time.
But even if we eat animal products, many of us are still deficient in B12, so it’s advisable to use a supplement rather than seek it out in your diet. Oral B12 is advisable as it gets absorbed into the digestive system most efficiently, where it’s then made active and bioavailable.
B12 supplements come with the added bonus of not being bound to a protein, which naturally makes them more bioavailable to our bodies. With meat and eggs, we rely on the efficiency of our digestive enzymes and the strength of our hydrochloric acid to break B12 down into smaller components that are then passed into our bloodstream. That means as well as for vegans, it’s especially crucial for people with digestive disorders such as IBS or Crohn’s to get B12 via a supplement, plus for older people, as our digestive system naturally becomes compromised as we age.
Regardless of its many positive upshots, though, you needn’t worry too much if you’ve been going without a vitamin B12 supplement to this point – symptoms can take several years to appear.
This article comes from our 28 Days of Plant Power free email series, sign up here.