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Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins that is bound to create the most confusion in the minds of the general populace, especially in those transitioning from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
There are many myths associated with vitamin B12 and the vegan diet.
Vegans are occasionally bombarded with questions and criticisms despite the scientific evidence in favor of their diet and the various health benefits the diet is typically associated with. One such criticism is in regards to taking vegan b12 supplements, and how unnatural that might be.
However, as we know, vitamin b12 is not produced by plants nor by animals, but by bacteria in the soil.
In this article, I will provide you with crucial information about B12, as well as 3 supplements I believe are the ones you should acquire if you decide to supplement B12.
3 Best Vegan B12 Supplements
Puritan’s Pride Vegan B12 Supplement (Editor’s Choice)
The reason I’ve chosen Puritan’s Pride supplement as the number one vegan vitamin B12 supplement is because of two crucial aspects: it contains cyanocobalamin and is highly affordable.
If you read the rest of the article, you will learn that cyanocobalamin is the most stable form of vitamin B12, the most cost-efficient one, as well as the one that is the safest to use, according to scientific evidence.
Even though methylcobalamin is advertised as being a more bioavailable form of vitamin B12, there is no evidence suggesting that it is superior to cyanocobalamin, in fact, it’s only more expensive.
Puritan’s Pride supplement comes with 1000mcg of vitamin B12 per serving, which means you only need to take it 2-3 times per week to stay within the adequate/healthy levels.
What’s more, each bottle of Puritan’s Pride vitamin B12 can include either 100 tablets or 250 tablets, which means it can last you for many months, unlike methylcobalamin supplements that typically contain 30/60 servings.
Puritan’s Pride also has two ongoing evergreen deals where you receive one bottle for free for purchasing one bottle, and you can receive three bottles for free upon purchasing two bottles. That’s a truly awesome opportunity.
If you wish to orally supplement vitamin B12, using the cyanocobalamin by Puritan’s Pride is the way to go.
Related: The Best Vegan Vitamin D Supplements
Livewell Vegan B12 Supplement
According to Livewell, they have a highly bioavailable form of vitamin B12, with 60 servings of methylcobalamin per bottle, which they claim to be sufficient for two months.
However, each serving contains 5000mcg of vitamin B12, which means you don’t need to take it daily, and it’s probably not recommended for you to do so, even though there are no toxicity events associated with overconsumption of vitamin B12.
Still, if you have less than adequate levels of vitamin B12, taking higher doses is a good way to quickly get back to what are considered healthy levels.
This particular supplement is a sublingual formula with a fresh citrus taste, which means you need to mix it with water to reap the benefits. This type of supplement is very convenient for people that don’t like swallowing pills and have some difficulty doing so. Some may even experience vomiting.
However, compared to the oral cyanocobalamin formula, this one is way more expensive, and there is no evidence to prove that taking a sublingual formula is superior in any way.
Future Kind Vegan B12 Supplement
Future Kind is a supplement company that specializes in creating vegan vitamins (among other supplements, including organic protein powders).
Their vitamin B12 is available in a supposedly more bioactive form (methylcobalamin) and is delivered in the form of spray for improved absorption, or that’s what the company implies on their page.
However, there is no evidence available that suggests methylcobalamin or taking vitamin B12 in liquid form is better for you, or that it benefits its absorption rate.
With that being said, using a spray may indeed be more convenient, particularly for someone that finds swallowing pills a very uncomfortable experience.
This is not a supplement I would purchase unless I’m unable to find a more stable and affordable B12 form (cyanocobalamin), which I’ve suggested above as being my favorite option.
Related: The Best Vegan Collagen Supplements
What to Consider Before Purchasing a B12 Supplement
The amount of vitamin B12 we can absorb is limited by the intrinsic factor (IF) our stomach can produce.
The body cannot fully absorb the vitamin B12 contained in a single serving. For example, for a vitamin B12 supplement with 500 mcg per serving, the body is only capable of absorbing 10 mcg, and this accounts for healthy individuals.
For this reason, the amount of vitamin B12 per serving should be significantly higher than the recommended daily intake established by health authorities. The more vitamin B12 we ingest at once, the lower is the percentage of vitamin B12 the body can absorb.
Vitamin B12 is measured in micrograms (mcg or μg).
The recommended daily intake is 2.4 mcg. However, if we supplement with 2.4 mcg, only a small percentage of that value will be absorbed by the body, and we won’t be able to meet the RDI.
The recommendations for taking B12 are the following:
- 3 portions of fortified foods with 1.3 mcg of B12 each
- Supplementing between 25mcg-100mcg per day
- Supplementing 1000mcg two-three times a week
These recommendations are for people with healthy B12 levels and without previous conditions. However, it’s important to note that each person has different needs, and what may work for one person, may not necessarily work for you, which is why it’s important to adjust supplementation to your individual profile.
As far as I know, a maximum daily intake of vitamin B12 has not been determined. There is insufficient data to identify potential toxic events. The accumulation and absorption in excess (for this particular vitamin) is unlikely since cobalamin is water-soluble and relies on a transportation system that is easily saturated. (see study)
The most popular form of vitamin B12 is the tablet or capsule.
There are also sublingual tablets, liquid and intravenous forms. Some people may not absorb the tablets properly and may need to take the vitamin in different forms such as an intravenous injection. Although the sublingual form is advertised as being superior, scientific evidence suggests that there is no difference in effectiveness between oral and sublingual forms. (see study 2, see study 3)
Some health professionals advise taking vitamin B12 on an empty stomach to enhance its absorption.
Vitamin B12 in supplements and fortified foods is produced by bacteria and is therefore vegan. However, the supplements may not be vegan due to the presence of animal ingredients in the tablet or capsule. There are more and more supplements free of animal ingredients, but there are still some with gelatin.
Supplements from algae or other plants are not considered to be reliable sources of vitamin B12. Using multivitamins can be ineffective and counterproductive in supplementing vitamin B12. The dosage of vitamin B12 present in multivitamins is generally reduced, often corresponding to only 100% of the recommended daily dose.
Also, B12 can be degraded in the presence of vitamin C and copper with the formation of inactive by-products (see study 1).
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin.
Together with folic acid (vitamin B9), it is essential for the formation and maturation of red blood cells and the production of DNA.
Generally, cobalamin is absorbed in the final section of the small intestine (ileum), but to be absorbed it needs to be linked to the intrinsic factor, produced in the stomach.
There are 4 types of vitamin B12: cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin.
The last two are the bioactive formats of the vitamin, that is to say, the ones used in our body’s reactions.
The main functions of vitamin B12 are:
- Formation of red blood cells
- DNA production – cobalamin and folic acid are needed to produce purines and pyrimidines which are the “building blocks” of DNA.
- Production of energy
- Formation and maintenance of the myelin sheath – which surrounds neurons and protects them.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency may happen due to insufficient consumption or insufficient absorption by the body.
The symptoms (of a B12 deficiency) can take five or more years to show, as the vitamin is stored in large quantities, mostly in the liver. However, for some people, the symptoms may appear earlier.
The diagnosis for this issue is based on blood tests prescribed by the doctor and the symptoms can be reversed if treated in time.
It is important to note that it’s not only the vegan population that is at risk for B12 deficiency, but everyone should pay attention to adequate B12 intake and verify that its absorption actually occurs, regardless of diet.
When we get older the absorption rate of this vitamin decreases, because of the reduction in stomach acidity. It is now recognized that regardless of the type of diet, vitamin B12 should be supplemented from the age of 50.
A B12 deficiency can lead to:
Megaloblastic anemia: It occurs when red blood cells are abnormally large and white blood cells are abnormal and immature. Symptoms can include paleness, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
The vegetarian diet does not lack folic acid. High amounts of folic acid can mask megaloblastic anemia due to B12 deficiency.
Changes in the functioning of the nervous system: It can cause damage to neurons, initially leading to changes in sensitivity (tingling, numbness), muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, lack of memory, difficulty in concentration and attention, fatigue, irritability, and depression.
Elevated levels of homocysteine: Homocysteine is an amino acid and a by-product of methionine metabolism. Its metabolism depends on B vitamins, including B2, B6, B9, and B12. Folic acid and cobalamin are essential in the process of transforming homocysteine into methionine. High levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia, and osteoporosis.
Vitamin B12 Sources
Vitamin B12 is produced neither by plants nor by animals. It is produced by bacteria, in the soil, or the intestines of animals.
Many herbivorous animals absorb B12 that is produced in their own intestines, but unfortunately, this is not the case for humans.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat/fish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. It is not naturally present in plants, hence why it is essential to supplement or consume fortified foods in the vegan diet.
Even for ovolactovegetarians, there is a chance that the consumption of milk and eggs may not offer enough cobalamin, so it might be necessary to take a supplement.
Kefir, kombucha, rejuvelac, miso, tempeh, some seaweed, and dark beer are not credible sources of vitamin B12.
There are several products fortified with cyanocobalamin, that is, vitamin B12 that is added to the product. Vegetable drinks, vegetable-based yogurts, soy-based products, nutritional yeast, and breakfast cereals are often fortified and can be a source of B12 in the diet if consumed in adequate amounts.
However, it can be quite difficult to reach the desired levels through fortified foods, and so, in my opinion, supplementation is the safest option.
Should I supplement with cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin?
This is a controversial topic with differing opinions.
The vitamin forms that are used in bodily reactions are methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. However, these forms are susceptible and may be destroyed through sunlight exposure.
Although several supplement companies may suggest that methylcobalamin is the most active form of vitamin B12 (which is true), cyanocobalamin is a more stable form of vitamin B12 and is also the most studied and most commonly accepted form of supplementation.
According to scientific evidence, supplementing with methylcobalamin does not seem to be in any way superior to supplementation with cyanocobalamin, not to mention that it’s more expensive. Our body can quickly convert cyanocobalamin to more active forms so that they can be used instantly.
The recommended intake guidelines of 25 to 100 mcg per day are valid for cyanocobalamin supplementation.
The requirements for the other forms of the vitamin are not yet fully determined, but about 1000 mcg per day is what is often recommended.
Does B12 Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Vitamins and minerals are important for normal cell growth and function and can contribute to hair loss when there is a deficiency.
The role of folic acid and cobalamin in the production of nucleic acid suggests that they may play a role in the hair follicle, which is proliferative.
Some studies address the relationship between hair loss and vitamins B9 and B12. However, the data is limited, and as such, there are no recommendations in that regard.
Deficiency in some micronutrients may be related to loss of hair pigmentation. These micronutrients include ferritin, vitamin D, folic acid, cobalamin, and selenium. (see study 4)
Do Eggs Contain B12?
Yes, eggs contain vitamin B12.
A boiled egg contains about 0.28 mcg of vitamin B12. (Source: Table of Food Composition. National Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge, I. P.- INSA. V 4.0 – 2019)
For an Ovo vegetarian to achieve the recommended daily dose of vitamin B12 it would be necessary to consume several eggs (8 to 9), which would not be healthy.
In fact, even for an ovolactovegetarian, it is difficult to achieve the recommended daily dose of B12 without resorting to fortified foods or supplementation.
Does Too Much Vitamin B12 Cause Side Effects?
Consuming too much vitamin B12 can lead to breakouts of acne and rosacea, a skin condition that causes a red rash on your face. Also, according to Mayo Clinic, high doses (such as those used to treat a deficiency), might cause symptoms like dizziness, headache, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.
With that being said, there is no sufficient evidence to support that fact, so it’s really hard to determine whether the aforementioned symptoms are true or not.
As we have seen, vitamin B12 does not come from animals; those that produce it are microorganisms, more specifically bacteria.
When consuming fortified foods or supplements, vegetarians are taking B12 from the same source as other animals.
B12 deficiency can happen with any diet and not just vegans. In fact, it is recommended that from the age of 50 everyone should supplement cobalamin, regardless of diet.
The need for B12 supplementation does not make the vegan diet inferior. There is a great deal of scientific evidence on the benefits of a plant-based diet.
If you suspect a B12 deficiency, are changing your diet to a vegan diet, or have health problems, look for a health professional or a nutritionist to help you assess the situation before purchasing an over-the-counter supplement. The nutritionist/doctor will help you make an assessment of your B12 and/or other vitamins/minerals and make recommendations based on your specific needs.