Doctors Urge Vegans to Take B12 Deficiency Risks Seriously
Thu, October 21, 2021

Doctors Urge Vegans to Take B12 Deficiency Risks Seriously

Experts warn vegans that they are at risk of permanent numbness in their hands and feet because of the lack of vitamins they receive from their diets. People who follow this lifestyle are advised to take vitamin supplements, specifically B12, to prevent the development of peripheral neuropathy / Photo by: Tatjana Baibakova via 123RF

 

Experts warn vegans that they are at risk of permanent numbness in their hands and feet because of the lack of vitamins they receive from their diets. People who follow this lifestyle are advised to take vitamin supplements, specifically B12, to prevent the development of peripheral neuropathy.

Milk is the common source for B12, but plant-based substitutes don't have enough levels of the vitamin to protect adults and children from the irreversible neurological disorder. Doctors also warn that young festival-goers are at a particular risk of B12 deficiency.

 

A Thing of Concern

Many aspects of the vegan diet are healthy, but experts see vitamin B12 as a specific concern. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps the body keep nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make the DNA.

Vegans receive merely one-third of the vitamins they need from their diet, and this makes them vulnerable to complications such as vision problems, memory loss, and the development of peripheral neuropathy (a result of damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord).

The Guardian reports that children are at a particular worry, citing a case in which a baby ended up with neuropathy after being breastfed by a mother with B12 deficiency.

Wrong information on the internet about not needing extra vitamin B12 is also an issue. Although, there is no evidence to support internet claims against B12, according to Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London.

"I’m concerned that many people think it is a myth," he said. "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 make sure they’ve got adequate levels of B12."

Sanders noted that people often use gorillas' vegan diet as support for their argument. However, B12 is produced in the great ape's colon and they get a lot of vitamins because "they probably don’t wash their hands."

Many aspects of the vegan diet are healthy, but experts see vitamin B12 as a specific concern. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps the body keep nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make the DNA / Photo by: Jarun Ontakrai via 123RF
 

 

Increasing B12 in Substitutes

Young festival-goers who are on a vegan diet are at the highest risk, according to experts.

Sanders said young people inhale laughing gas, which can actively cause vitamin B12 deficiency. "There is a danger of young people going vegan, not having B12, and it could tip the balance to them getting a serious neuropathy," he explained.

Vitamin B12 is mostly found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products instead of plant-based food. For herbivores like gorillas, they mostly get their ration of the nutrient by eating their feces.

The Daily Mail says manufacturers of plant-based milk can address this problem by increasing the vitamin B12 quantity in their products by three times.

The warning of vitamin B12 deficiency comes as people make preparations to adopt veganism in the coming new year as part of "Veganuary." While the deficiency won’t occur after the first month of taking on the diet, it will likely catch up for those who decide to continue with the lifestyle.

Experts advise people who are going vegan to read up on what they need to eat, including information on vitamin B12.

Not Enough Data

Researchers have been looking into the health of people who take up the vegan diet for years.

A small study in the UK involving 172 vegan men found that around a fifth of participants were likely to be "seriously deficient," the Daily Mail reports, adding that Sanders was "really quite shocked" at the findings.

Earlier studies have also looked into the same topic, including the Epic study at Oxford and California-based research that totaled about 10,000 people. However, this data is not enough to understand the health of vegans.

"It’s not enough," said Tim Key, professor of epidemiology and deputy director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University. "We don’t have precise estimates of long term health in vegans."

Lost Nutrients

Vitamin B12 is only one of the several nutrients that are lost when adopting the vegan diet. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles have both been linked to numerous health benefits such as the lower risk of excess weight, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

But, as stated, plant-based food doesn't provide all the nutrients the body needs either because it's difficult to get or these alternatives don't have the adequate amount needed. This is why it's important to be aware of and include supplements in their diet to maintain their health.

Aside from vitamin B12, vitamin D3 is also lost in the vegan diet. This nutrient helps increase blood levels of absorbable vitamin D and is mostly found in fatty fish and egg yolk.

According to Healthline, an online source for health and wellness, insufficient D3 in the body may lead to a deficiency in dietary vitamin D. This deficiency has been linked to a higher risk of various conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and depression.

Taurine, carnosine, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are also nutrients that are difficult to obtain from a vegan diet. Deficiencies in these nutrients would put the brain, muscle, and heart functions at risk.

Vitamin B12 is only one of the several nutrients that are lost when adopting the vegan diet / Photo by: lightfieldstudios via 123RF