There are many vitamins and minerals that we hear about in the media, from medical professionals, and from our parents/family growing up. We mostly understand that we require some calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and iron. We understand that we need protein (though there are very interesting debates about how much). However, many of us have no clue about the B vitamins. Vitamin B12 can be a particular issue for those on a vegan diet who do not consume fortified food/drink (like soymilk). Thus, raw vegans may be more inclined to a B12 deficiency.
Why is this important? B12 is a vitamin that the body requires (like folic acid) to make red blood cells. The body cannot synthesize B12; it must be consumed in the diet. I’m sure that I don’t need to explain that red blood cells are pretty important to our oxygenation and thus our overall health and wellness.
In a typical Westernized diet, people generally absorb sufficient quantities of B12 by eating meat, eggs, and dairy products. Those who consume a vegan diet, or those who eat a very limited variety of foods (which can be more common in older adults), may find it very difficult to consume adequate B12. Additionally, some medical conditions (including Crohn’s disease) and medications (including popular stomach acid reducers) may make it hard for the body to absorb enough B12 through diet.
Often, people are unaware that they have a B12 deficiency unless/until it becomes severe. Symptoms can include fatigue, bleeding gums, weight loss, dizziness. Persistent B12 deficiency can even lead to nerve damage and the associated physical and mental symptoms.
If you suspect that you have a B12 problem, your physician can test for anemia and B12 levels. However, even if you don’t think testing is needed, it’s probably a good idea to think about how much B12 you are consuming and whether you need to supplement your dietary levels. For those on a vegan, but not raw, diet, soy milk and other processed vegan foods may be fortified with B12. For individuals on a raw diet, B12 (or full spectrum B) vitamins are readily available in most pharmacies, GNC stores, or online.
If you would like more information about the role of B12 in the body and supplementation, check out:
American Family Physician article on B12 deficiency
The Vegetarian Society B12 information sheet