Smart vegans make sure to supplement with this one essential vital nutrient: A vitamin B12 supplement.
So what's the deal with nutrient, and is it really necessary or can you not meet needs by eating a wide variety of plant foods?
(Hint: YES, supplementation is absolutely necessary and if you're wondering what kind of supplement you should get, this article will also provide the best options for vitamin B12 products).
Our Top Vegan B12 Supplements (2019 Updated)
My go-to recommendation for a B12 supplement would be something simple, cheap and effective (and of course 100% vegan without any gelatin or other animal products) such as:
OUR #1 RATED
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Garden of Life
OUR #5 RATED
1. Transparent Labs Vitamin B Complex (Editor's Choice)
RawSeries Vitamin B Complex contains multiple B vitamins which can help you to regulate your energy levels and stay healthy. This is essential for us vegans and veggies who lack in some key areas of nutrition.
This product also sneaks in some extra ingredients to this B-Complex, including choline, inositol, and vitamin C. All in all, RawSeries seem to have created a good all-rounder one-stop-shop for veggies and vegans who are not getting enough nutrition in their diet naturally.
According to the manufacturer, the supplement will lead to increased energy, enhanced carbohydrate metabolism, and improved brain function. It also is said to help with healthy maintenance and growth of skin, hair, and nails.
2. VeganSafe B-12
This 100% vegan vitamin B12 supplement contains 80% methylcobalamin and 20% adenosylcobalamin, 2 forms of vegan B12 which are highly bioactive, meaning that you extract their nutrients more easily.
3. Jarrow Formulas Methyl B12
Featuring Methylcobalamin, the most bioavailable form of Vitamin B-12, this vegan B12 supplement comes as chewable vitamins which have a nice natural cherry flavor.
It's got a whopping 5000mcg of Methyl B12.
4. Garden of Life B12 Vitamin
With a name as wholesome as “Garden of Life”, who wouldn’t trust this vegan B12 supplement? This spray-style supplement is fortified with methylcobalamin, allowing you to consume 500 mcg of b12 in a single spray.
5. Nature's Bounty
Nature’s Bounty contains B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin, which is one of the most well-researched sources of vegan B12. These vitamins are not contaminated by any artificial nonsense, and they conveniently can be swallowed or dissolved in a hot drink to mask the taste.
What is Vitamin B12 (& Why is It So Important?)
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin required for many vital functions in the body such as the production of healthy red blood cells and proper neurological function. You only need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day – around a three millionth of a gram (1) (2).
According to Dr. Jennifer Rooke from the Morehouse School of Medicine, both vegans and omnivores risk deficiency (3):
“animal products contain B12, and strict vegetarians/vegans are at risk for B12 deficiency, but absorbing B12 from animal products is a very complex process and people who eat meat may be at equal or greater risk for B12 deficiency."
Do vegans really need b12 supplements?
Vegans need B12 supplements if they plan to continue their veganism long term. Right now, there are no noteworthy plant sources of vitamin B12 which have a high enough bioavailability to be considered as sustainable sources of the vitamin.
One study of 232 vegans found that half of them were categorized as deficient in this essential vitamin which is largely missing from a vegan lifestyle (4).
How much b12 should a vegan take?
A vegan should take 500-1000 mcg of B12 once every few days. Although the RDA by the Food and Nutrition Board for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day, a significant portion of the B12 we consume is lost and our body doesn’t absorb it all (5).
As a result, 500 mcg only translates into about 10 mcg being absorbed. It’s difficult to take too much B12, so those living a vegan lifestyle should not be afraid to take high doses of this vitamin in the form of plant-based supplements (6).
What happens when your vitamin b12 is low?
When your vitamin B12 level is low, you may experience many negative effects. Pale skin, fatigue, mouth ulcers, dizziness, breathlessness, high temperatures, disturbed vision and mood swings are all tell-tale signs of a B12 deficiency.
B12 plays many important roles in your body’s nervous system and red blood cell production, so having too little B12 in your diet can take a toll on your body’s functioning.
Can vegans get b12 naturally?
Vegans can only get B12 naturally by consuming products which have been fortified with B12, such as certain brands of fortified almond milk and soy milk. Apart from that, vegans need to get their B12 by taking supplements.
Sadly, there are no reliable plant-based sources of B12 which are bioavailable enough to be noteworthy.
Which fruits and vegetables contain vitamin b12?
Plants such as mushrooms, chorella, spirulina and nori seaweed have been shown to contain some vitamin B12, however, these sources are known as B12 analogues, meaning that they are less potent or completely inactive (7) (8) (9) (10).
Some studies have suggested that plants such as chlorella may be able to provide a bioavailable form of vitamin B12, although the results were very varied, with different batches varying in their B12 content from zero to several hundred micrograms of B12. (11)
Plant-based B12 is hard to find, as Dr. Edward Group from the Global Healing Center explains (12):
“The majority of food sources for vitamin B-12 come from foods of animal origin, making vegan options somewhat limited. Certain soil bacteria synthesize B-12 and some people believe that eating unwashed vegetables may provide trace amounts of the vitamin. However, most people aren’t too keen on eating dirty vegetables.”
If You Have to Supplement B12, Doesn't That Make a Vegan Diet 'Unnatural'?
First of all, as we've established B12 is not produced by animals, but by bacterial fermentation. Animals just have the capacity to absorb and accumulate B12 in their flesh and secretions. Also the B12 found in supplements is produced by the exact same bacterial activity as in the stomach of a ruminant or in soil - there's literally no difference.
Secondly, back in the day, not the 70's but tens of thousands years ago, we lived in a more unhygienic environment compared to today's modern society. If you lived 150.000 years ago you were probably drinking dirty water, eating unwashed fruits and veggies, unintentionally eating your own and others feces - all of which contribute to meeting B12 needs.
Considering that our requirements are microscopic, only a few micrograms per day, it makes sense that this would supply the tiny amount that's required. And even if it was the case that our ancestors relied on meat for B12 tens of thousands years ago, exactly what relevance does that have for us right now? None.
It's also practiced to give sheep and cattle supplemental B12 in order for them to reach optimal levels, which means meat-eaters are indirectly supplementing B12 by eating animal products.
Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to get B12 directly from a supplement, instead of it having to pass all the way through a cow or pig or sheep that then has to die?
Cyanocobalamin Vs. Methylcobalamin - Which is Better?
There are mainly two different forms of B12 avaiable on the market:
Cyanocobalamin is bound to a cyanide molecule, and methylcobalamin is bound to methyl group of carbon and hydrogen. The most common form found in supplements is cyanocobalamin.
However it's been proposed that methylcobalamin is the superior alternative due to certain factors.
The theory is that the body absorbs vitamin B12 as cobalamin, but it must then further converted to a coenzyme form, methylcobalamin, to become metabolically active. B12 in the form of methylcobalamine is bioidentical to the active form found in the body - basically making it more "body-ready" than other forms of B12.
Furthermore, some concerns have been raised in regards to exposing the body to cyanide by using cyanocobalamin. However this is not something you should worry about: many different foods you eat on a daily basis, such as flax seeds, contain small amounts of natural cyanide and the body is capable of dealing with this.
Now what does the research say on the subject?
One paper from 2015 examined the various forms of vitamin B12 and concluded that: There was no benefit of using methylcobalamin over cyanocobalamin in terms of bioavailability, biochemical effects, or clinical efficacy (13).
Bottomline is that there doesn't seem to matter much which form of B12 you choose, both work rather well. To ensure optimal uptake you could alternate between the different forms (probably overkill).
It also doesn't seem to matter whether you go with a sublingual, meaning dissolved under the tongue, or normal pill that you swallow (14).
FAQ & Buyer's Guide
What are the side effects of too much vitamin b12?
Having too much vitamin B12 can have side effects such as breakouts of acne and rosacea, a skin condition which causes a red rash on your face. Too much vitamin B12 has also been linked to health problems for people suffering from kidney disease or diabetes. However, most people will never take doses high enough to cause these effects.
What is the normal range for b12 levels?
The normal range for B12 levels in your blood is 200-900 (ng/mL). If your B12 levels are below 200 (ng/mL) or above 900 (ng/mL), you may need to speak to your physician about changing your vitamin B12 intake. Too much or too little B12 can cause various health and energy problems.
What helps b12 absorption?
Pepsin helps with B12 absorption. Pepsin is an enzyme which helps to break proteins down into their amino acids, aiding with B12 uptake. Intrinsic Factor, a protein, also helps to absorb B12 in your stomach lining. Sublingual supplements also help absorption, as they bypass the stomach where the B12 is often destroyed.
Our #1 Recommended Vegan Vitamin B12
Transparent Labs is the best B12 supplement in my humble opinion! Containing 1000mg in each capsule.
It’s great for people who are looking after their health and watching artificial ingredients – the clean ingredients list only features water and vegetable glycerine as extra ingredients.
Best Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplement
I hope this article was helpful and that you by now should be on your way to hopping aboard the B12 supplement train! Cho cho!
Another supplement you should highly consider is a vegan omega-3 supplement.
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