Summary: This article provides a thorough background on Vitamin B12 needs for people following a vegan diet. But if you simply want our recommendation on how to avoid deficiency, here it is: every day or two take one of these 1000 microgram Now 1000 mcg B12 Lozenges.
What is Vitamin B12?
Of all the nutrients that vegans should pay attention to, Vitamin B12 belongs at the very top of the list. It is essential for nervous system health, so every vegan needs to take this nutrient seriously. People with B12 deficiency risk developing numerous conditions ranging from worrisome to horrific.
Only animal-based foods, or supplemented vegan foods, contain Vitamin B12. Unfortified vegan foods contain virtually none of this nutrient. Oddly, deficiencies often take several years to arise. That’s because the liver stores comparatively large amounts of B12. This makes it dangerous to be complacent about finding a reliable source of B12 since deficiency can creep up over time, silently doing damage before symptoms arise.
Should People on a Vegan Diet Take a Vitamin B12 Supplement?
The need for vegans to take this nutrient seriously is clear. That said, you may run into other vegans who insist that there’s no need to take a B12 supplement. These people confidently assert, “I’ve been vegan for eight years, never take B12 supplements, and I’m in perfect health.” But meanwhile, they’re all twitchy and something just isn’t right. In many cases these people will experience a health crisis, return to eating meat, and then tell the world that a vegan diet leads to failed health. Unfortunately, having a productive dialog with these folks is generally futile, just like there’s no reasoning with the Vegan Police.
Why do some vegans seem to take pride in spurning B12 supplements? It’s because back in the 1980s and 1990s several prominent vegan advocacy books came out that downplayed the need for vegans to take B12. Because these books referred to early and unreliable research, B12 misinformation got a giant head start on the truth.
Why B12 Supplements Make Sense
There are all sorts of easily-debunked arguments asserting that vegans don’t need B12. Some people contend it’s produced by your intestines (it’s not, at least in a way that your body absorbs). Others claim algae or seaweed are good sources (wrong again, even if inaccurate lab tests seem to show positive results). And still other people proclaim you can satisfy your B12 requirements by not washing your vegetables (that’s just silly.)
In at least a couple cases, prominent vegan authors who contributed to B12 complacency went back to eating animal products. The damage their books have done have produced ripple effects continuing to today.
Meeting Your B12 Needs
Vegans can easily meet their B12 needs through supplements or by regularly eating B12 fortified foods. Some supplements contain non-vegan ingredients. But plenty of vegan B12 supplements are available, including my top pick.
When swallowed as a pill, B12 is absorbed poorly. You’ll get better absorption from B12 lozenges or ‘sublingual tablets’, which are different words for the same thing. You let these tablets dissolve under your tongue, thereby absorbing B12 through the capillaries in your mouth. A sensible dosage is a 1000 to 2000 microgram tablet taken a few times a week. Note that many brands of B12 contain methylcobalamin, but research indicates cyanocobalamin can satisfy your body’s needs with much smaller doses.
Foods commonly fortified with B12 include non-dairy milks, cereals, meat substitutes, energy bars, and nutritional yeast. Check the food’s nutrition label to see its level of B12. Note that B12 fortified foods are dosed with the very same B12 that is put into supplements. This means that obtaining your B12 through fortified vegan foods is in no way more “natural” than purchasing supplements. Additionally, you can have difficulty meeting your B12 needs through fortified foods. That’s because comparatively few products are B12 fortified, and any fortification is usually at low levels.
What’s the Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplement?
Most vegans will therefore find they can more reliably meet their needs by purchasing a bottle of vegan B12 lozenges. Sublingual B12 supplements are available online or at any natural foods store. Of the dozens of B12 supplements Amazon stocks, probably the best deal is Now’s 1000 microgram lozenges. This inexpensive sublingual lozenge gives you a large dose of B12, using the cyanocobalamin molecule.
Sprays or other high-priced B12 products can also satisfy your needs, but they’re a waste of money. While sprays might perhaps be better absorbed than lozenges, they also cost vastly more. The one thing you should care about when choosing a vegan B12 brand is bang for the buck. Strive to get the most micrograms of cyanocobalamin per bottle at the lowest cost. And don’t buy tablets intended to be swallowed—instead, choose lozenges or “sublingual” tablets. There’s no need to spend a lot for your B12 supplement. The purchase price of expensive supplements goes primarily to buy slick advertising.
Dealing with Poor B12 Absorption
Ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age, and some people cannot absorb sufficient B12 orally. Luckily, determining your B12 levels is one of the cheapest blood work tests available, and it’s standard on every basic nutrient panel.
If your levels remain low despite daily use of sublinguals, your doctor may decide that injections are warranted. Since injections go straight into the muscle, they guarantee that high absorption. These injections require a prescription in the United States. But in Mexico and many other countries, you can buy hypodermic needles pre-loaded with B12 at any pharmacy without a prescription. Obviously, only people with proper medical qualifications should administer these injections.