Vegans must take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid risk of deficiency, warn experts

Vegans do not get enough vitamin B12 in their diet, a nutrient crucial to prevent irreversible nerve damage and other movement issues


                            Vegans must take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid risk of deficiency, warn experts
Eating fortified foods like cereals, or taking B12 supplements can help make up for the lack of Vitamin B12 in plant-based foods. (Getty Images)

Before going vegan, consider keeping a stash of vitamin B12 supplements, say experts.

The reason: Vegans do not get enough vitamin B12 in their diet, a nutrient crucial to prevent irreversible nerve damage and other movement issues, according to experts from the Universities of Oxford, Leeds and King’s College. The team addressed a press gathering in London, ahead of 'Veganuary', when more people shift to the plant-based diet for the first month of the year.

Vitamin B12 deficiency in vegan diet is passed off as 'myth'. “It is something that can be easily avoided and what concerns me is that many new people becoming vegan are unaware of the need to combine sources of plant proteins. They are not aware of the need to make sure they’ve got adequate levels of B12, and you’ve got to be very careful, particularly in pregnancy, lactation and bringing up children to make sure you have adequate levels of micronutrients,” Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, said at the briefing.

Vegans miss out on vitamin B12 commonly found in milk, fish and meat, warns the team. One-fifth of vegans may be dangerously short of vitamin B12, according toThe Telegraph. However, eating fortified foods like cereals, or taking B12 supplements could make up for the lack of the nutrient in plant-based foods.

Doctors recommend that adults and teenagers get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. The nutrient is also known for boosting energy, improving memory and preventing heart disease.

When pregnant vegan mothers with B12 deficiency breastfeed, their babies could develop a malfunctioning nervous system, leading to long-term damage.

"It is something that can be easily avoided, and what concerns me is that many new people becoming vegan are unaware of the need to combine sources of plant proteins. And they are not aware of the need to ensure they have adequate levels of B12," said Sanders.

Vegans miss out on Vitamin B12 commonly found in milk, fish and meat. (Getty Images)

What does science say about Vegan diet?

The potential health benefits of vegan diet have long been debated and experts suggest that future studies may draw out conclusive results. So far, we know plant-based diet is rich in fiber, beta carotene, vitamin K and C, folate, magnesium, and potassium intake. It can help people fend off type 2 diabetes, declining kidney function and lower risk of heart disease.

In addition to vitamin B12 deficiency, vegans are also prone to iron deficiency, especially among young women who risk getting anemic. Scientists recommend vegans to monitor health by getting frequent blood tests done or to consult a dietician to consider supplements to avoid nutrient deficiencies or nutrient-overdose-related toxicity.

The evidence for the effects of strictly plant-based diets on brain functions and mental effects are very limited, according to a review.

"Whether you're vegan or not, nutritional planning is essential for everyone. Going vegan is an opportunity to learn more about nutrition, including how to balance food groups, and the roles of fortified foods and supplementation. For example, vegans obtain vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplementation, and guidance is available on The Vegan Society's website," Heather Russell, dietitian at the Vegan Society, told the BBC.

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