Resolve to Get Your Vitamin B12
It almost goes without saying that with each new year, comes a focus (even if only briefly) on our health. Since we are standing on the precipice of a new year, let’s think about an aspect of our health that is worth considering … vitamin B12.
If you are vegan, or thinking about it, you’ve probably heard about the importance of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is commonly found in a variety of foods, such as fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. If you are living a vegan lifestyle, you won’t get your B12 from the traditional sources. And hold on a minute if you think because you are not 100% vegan you don’t need to worry! Many doctors and nutritionists recommend that everyone over 50 take a B12 supplement because as you age, your ability to absorb this important vitamin decreases dramatically.
Vitamin B12 is important because of it’s used in DNA synthesis and without enough of it, permanent damage can result (e.g., blindness, deafness, dementia). Fatigue, lack of mental clarity, and tingling in the hands or feet, can be early signs of deficiency. The good news is that the human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12 in the liver, so low levels in the body may not be detected in vegans until several years into the change in your diet.
Thankfully, it’s easy to find and eat vegan foods fortified with B12, but the best bet is to take a supplement. Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria and sourced from bacteria cultures; it is not taken from animal products. Veganhelath.org has some very good, in-depth information which I would encourage you to read to learn more, but in the meantime:
- Take a B12 supplement. Many doctors recommend a sublingual supplement, which means it dissolves under your tongue and bypasses the stomach where much of it is typically wasted due to poor absorption.
- Consider methycobalamin vs. cyanocobalamin. Long words, yes, but what you should know is that many studies show that the methyl version is more effective (and safer). Do your own research and make your own decision. (I took both at different times and my blood tests showed a greater increase in B12 during the time period I took the methyl version.)
- Get a blood test to see what your B12 levels are before taking any supplement, but know that if this change in your diet is new, you may not show signs of decreasing B12 until you have been eating vegan for months or years. (I poo-pooed the idea that I needed a supplement because I ate foods fortified with B12, that is until I had my blood tested and found that I was, in fact, deficient.)
- While you’re at it, check the levels of all the important vitamins and minerals. I was shocked to find that, even as a healthy eater, I was very low in some important areas. As a result, I do supplement with a multi-vitamin, a plant-based D3, and iron.
- Do eat foods fortified with B12 because it will contribute to your overall levels. Many foods are fortified with B12; most brands of nutritional yeast (flaky condiment that can be added to soups, sauces, popcorn, smoothies), plant-milks, non-dairy yogurts, meat substitutes and energy bars.
There’s lots of information available, so do your own research but don’t ignore this important vitamin!