Do Vegans need B12?

Q. Do I need to take B12 if I’m eating a vegan diet?


Do you know what segment of our population has the most problem with B12 deficiency? It’s not vegetarians. It’s actually the elderly. As we get older, many of us have great difficulty with absorbing B12. So B12 deficiency is not a vegetarian problem. It’s actually a problem for many people as we get older. It has a very complex absorption process. So if you are older and have nerve problems or anemia, this is one of the things that we check. It’s a common thing that we check for in people that have dementia or early mental changes. We check them for B12 status.

It is true that B12 is not found reliably in vegan sources of nutrition. So if you’re getting older, like most of you probably are, and you’re a total vegetarian, a vegan, you actually are at higher risk. But even if you’re eating lots of meat and other animal products, you’re not immune from risk. So everyone needs to be cognizant of B12. We do recommend people that are on vegetarian diets to take a B12 supplement. If you’re young and you have good absorption, you need a very small amount, only a few micrograms a day. The smallest tablets you can get today in America are usually 500-1000 mcg. You don’t need anywhere near that much if you’re young and have good absorption. You can just take a little piece of a pill and you’ll get plenty of B12. If you’re older and you actually get into B12 absorption problems, you may need injectable B12 for a period of time. But even in those people, after your levels are built up, you can maintain your level by taking a couple thousand micrograms a day. It may sound like a lot, but a thousand micrograms is only one milligram, and a milligram is a thousandth of a gram, and there’s 454 grams in a pound. We’re talking about tiny amounts. If you did all the math, it’s a millionth of a pound, or an ounce.

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