Updated: Mar 15
Vitamin B12, vegans seem to talk about it all the time, kind of like meat eaters talking about protein. It is easy to come by the vitamin B12 as a vegan; you can eat or drink fortified foods, such as plant milks and some meat substitutes, or you can use a supplement. There are loads of different supplements to choose from, you can a take a tablet once a day, use a weekly spray or add B12 to your food. I add my B12 to my porridge each morning. But, what happens when you are B12 deficient? What are a the signs and would you even notice?
What Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
B12 deficiency happens when your body does not get enough of the vitamin B12. This can be from not having enough B12 in your diet or from your body not absorbing enough. This vitamin is used in many different processes in the body, but an important one is making red blood cells. When you don't have enough vitamin B12 your body will make really large red blood cells. These red blood cells don't work properly, there's a reason for red blood cells being the size and shape that they normally are. These extra large red blood cells don't carry oxygen well and this causes problems for all parts of your body as your cells need oxygen to produce energy.
What Does Vitamin B12 Deficiency Feel Like?
The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency don't start suddenly, they slowly get worse, and if you don't increase your B12 intake you can become quite ill. This is because our bodies store the vitamin and, when well stocked, we can have enough to last as long as 2 - 4 years, it is when this store has run out that we become ill. At first you might start to feel a little tired and have less energy, but as time goes on this can become much worse. Symptoms can include:
extreme tiredness (fatigue)
lack of energy (lethargy)
a sore and red tongue (glossitis)
pins and needles (paraesthesia)
If you experience any of these symptoms or you are worried about your vitamin levels talk to your GP, blood tests can easily tell you if you need to increase your intake of certain foods, vitamins or minerals. When caught early enough these symptoms will go away with treatment, however, if you don't treat the problem the symptoms can be irreversible.
How To Get Enough Vitamin B12
The easiest way to make sure that you are getting enough B12 is to supplement. Shop around and choose a supplement that works for you. Getting B12 through a plant based diet can only be done with fortified foods. Vitamin B12 is naturally made by bacteria; people that eat meat, eggs and dairy get their B12 from animals eating the bacteria from soil, grass or surface water and absorbing the B12 that the bacteria make, they cannot make the vitamin themselves. It's almost like the animals fortify themselves. Vegans can't use this source so we drink fortified plant milks, eat fortified meat substitutes, cereals and other food products. If you choose to get your B12 this way make sure that you are getting enough each day by reading the ingredients and nutritional information list to see how much B12 each food product gives you. However, if you are unsure about anything talk you your doctor and get some blood tests done to make sure that everything is as it should be.