Vitamin B-12: Essential for Vegans and Pregnancy

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • For those of you who have chosen a diet without animal products, you are probably already aware of the potential risk of Vitamin B-12 deficiency, a very important vitamin that is generally found in fish, meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products. This does not mean that all non-vegetarians have sufficient levels of B-12, as there can also be problems with absorption, which I’ll explain later. However, it is much less likely for a non-vegetarian to become deficient then a vegetarian or vegan, which makes supplementation an extremely important part of the diet for those who don’t consume animal protein.

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    B-12 is responsible for red blood cell production and division (and helping to prevent heart disease). It is also necessary for growth and development (making it extremely important during pregnancy and nursing), the health of both the nervous and immune systems, and protecting and optimizing brain function (memory, concentration, etc.).

    Some symptoms of B-12 deficiency include anemia, low energy/fatigue, depression, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, impaired memory and behavioral changes, dementia, insomnia and digestion problems. Vegan mothers who are not supplementing with B-12 have also put their babies at risk for developmental problems during both pregnancy and nursing, which can result in anemia, neural tube birth defects, inadequate muscle use and sensory impairment. In combination with folic acid, as the two are metabolically related to one another, B-12 is key to a healthy pregnancy and the early stages of a newborn’s life.

    Although many vegans would prefer to get all of their nutrients from natural sources, the evidence shows that plant foods that contain B-12 don’t contain the active form that is necessary for proper absorption and assimilation. Soy products and sea vegetables/algae have been said to contain B-12. However, researchers are finding that the type of B-12, referred to as analogue or inactive form, not only fails to improve B-12 levels, it may actually prevent the proper metabolism of active B-12 and consequently lead to deficiency.

    As for non-vegans, B-12 deficiency is still a possibility no matter how much animal protein you may consume. The reason is due to improper absorption.  A healthy gut is required for B-12 metabolism and can be disrupted by conditions such as Candida, Crone’s disease, celiac disease or parasites. Those who have had part of their stomach or small intestine removed may also have trouble absorbing B-12. Stomach acid, which is reduced with antacids and heartburn medications, is also needed to properly utilize B-12. If any of these scenarios apply to you, it’s imperative that you also have your B-12 levels checked on a regular basis.

    The only way to be sure that you have healthy levels of B-12 in your body is to have your urine analyzed using the Methyimalonic Acid Test (MMA) which is the new “gold standard”. Previously, serum tests were used, however they are no longer considered accurate as the results contain inactive forms of B-12, which are useless for proper assessment.

  • If you are someone whose test shows a deficiency, supplementation or regular active B-12 injections may be necessary to bring your body back into balance.  The most common form of B-12 supplements is called Cyanocobalamin. Other forms include Methylcobalamin, Adenosylcobalamin and Hydroxocobalamin. For those who are deficient, it is recommended that the person take 1000 micrograms per day for a few weeks, which can be cut in half for the subsequent two weeks and then cut in half again if the MMA test shows improvement. Regular supplementation for vegans and or pregnant/nursing moms is at least 10 micrograms per day or 2000 micrograms per week (which can be taken weekly rather than daily). Some fortified foods may also contain adequate active B-12, but be sure to read the labels to assess the amount you are consuming.

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    Proper B-12 levels are extremely important for good health and should not be taken lightly, especially for vegans and mothers to be.


Published On: May 04, 2011