I know what you're thinking. This is just another sensationalist article trying to convince me to buy a B12 supplement, right?
Well... kinda. I DO want you to buy a B12 supplement. But sensationalism it is not. And whether you use our B12 supplement or another is totally up to you. The most important thing is that you use a B12 supplement.
For context, this article was actually first written in 2018, long before we had created our own B12 supplement. I wrote it to explain why supplementing with B12 is so important, and how most of the world are ALREADY taking a B12 supplement (even if they don't quite know it).
Let's start by taking a closer look at B12 and why it is so important for our health.
What is Vitamn B12?
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the body. It is essential for energy production, brain health, and the function of our nervous system.
The Benefits of B12
Some of the main health benefits of vitamin B12 include:
- B12 helps the body to make energy. It does this by playing a key role in the conversion of the food you eat into glucose. One of the main symptoms of a B12 deficiency is low energy levels, lack of concentration and muscle weakness.¹
- B12 helps in the production of red blood cells, and transport oxygen to your vital organs. With a B12 deficiency comes an increased risk of developing anaemia.²
- B12 strengthens bone health and lowers risk of osteoporosis³
- B12 improves mood and lowers risk of depression⁴
- B12 improves brain health and prevents the loss of neurons. B12 deficiency has been linked with an increased risk of memory loss and dementia.⁵ ⁶
As a water soluble vitamin, B12 is stored in our cells so a deficiency may not be noticed straight away. However this deficiency can cause irreversible damage⁷ which is why paying careful attention to this nutrient is incredibly important.
Where can I get B12?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is produced by bacteria, not animals or plants.
Hundreds of years ago, no one had to worry about their intake of vitamin B12 because it was found naturally in the soil. We would eat vegetables, tubers, herbs and spices that contained the microscopic B12 producing bacteria – thus supplying us with all of the vitamin B12 we needed to be healthy.
But in today’s world, getting enough vitamin B12 is a very different story. Due to industrial farming methods, heavy pesticide use, excessive sanitation and the depletion in nutrients found in our soil… it is now impossible to get enough vitamin B12 through the plants that we eat.
The absence of vitamin B12 in plant based diets is one of the reasons that people advocate the consumption of animal products.
According to the logic, a plant based diet is not sustainable because you cannot get enough B12 and must therefore take a supplement. But there’s a catch…
What most people don’t know is that almost all of the animals in our food supply are actually given a vitamin B12 supplement themselves! This is because the plants that they eat no longer contain vitamin B12, so the farmers give them supplementary vitamin B12 to keep them healthy.
According to experts 90% of all B12 supplements that are produced are currently fed to livestock.⁸ Which means that when we consume animal products we are literally just consuming a second-hand vitamin B12 supplement!
Package that with saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics and advanced glycation end products… and consuming animal foods doesn’t seem quite so healthy. I once saw a quote that eating a steak for vitamin B12 is like drinking a can of coca-cola for potassium. Sure, you will get a small amount of that nutrient when you drink it, but there are much safer and healthier ways to get your fix!
And then of course we must consider that B12 deficiency is not just a problem for vegans.
In fact, approximately 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have low levels of B12. A further 9% had a deficiency, and 16% had a 'near deficiency'.⁹ According to current statistics vegans and vegetarians make up to around 6% of the UK population. I'll let you do the maths.
By far the healthiest and safest way to get vitamin B12 in our modern day world is by taking a high quality supplement. Perhaps one day in the future we will be able to replenish our soil quality so that B12 is abundant once again. But we’re not there yet.
How much B12 should I take?
According to the World Health Organisation the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 for healthy adults is 2.4mcg per day.¹⁰
However when it comes to supplementation, most leading nutritionists recommend consuming between 250 - 500mcg daily. This is because we only absorb a small amount of the B12 supplements that we take.
According to experts we absorb around 1.5mcg of B12 through a process called 'intrinsic factor'. To keep this process simple, it involves absorbing the B12 via the cells of the stomach lining.
We then absorb a further 1 - 2% of a B12 supplement through passive diffusion. This is the amount of B12 that is absorbed into our bloodstream.
So, if we were to consume 500mcg of B12 via a supplement, our best estimates are that we would absorb 1.5mcg of this through intrinsic factor plus a further 5mcg (1%) through passive absorption. This would add up to a total of 6.5mcg of B12 daily.
This is a safe and sensible amount of B12 to consume daily, especially given it is very hard to overdose on this nutrient. However as with any nutrient I always recommend getting blood tests to check your B12 levels at least once or twice yearly. If you are supplementing with 500mcg and your B12 levels are above the optimal range, you can consider lowering your dose to 250mcg.
What form of B12 should I take?
There are three main forms of B12 recommended by nutritionists. These are methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin.
In addition to this we have cyanocobalamin, however this is the synthetic form of B12 which is why it is not recommended so highly.
Given that B12 absorption can be difficult, experts recommend that B12 should be supplemented in all three natural forms. This ensures that your body has the best chance of absorbing as much B12 as possible from your supplement.
This is why when we created our B12 supplement, we did so in the MHA form. This means it contains an equal amount of methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin.
We also chose to make it in liquid form, as research has shown that liquid forms of B12 are absorbed more easily into the bloodstream than capsules.¹¹ Using liquid form also means you can easily adjust your dosage using the pipette provided, so you can take more or less B12 depending on your needs. Learn more about our vegan liquid supplements here.
Further notes on B12
If you are over the age of 65, if you are taking the drug metformin for diabeties, or if you are on drugs for acid reflux or heartburn you should pay particular attention to your B12 intake.¹²
The same also applies if you have chron's disease, inflammatory bowel disease or low stomach acid. This is because these conditions may impair the absorption of B12 through the stomach lining.
If you fall into any of these categories I recommend testing your B12 levels twice yearly, even when taking a supplement religiously.