How to avoid a Vitamin B12 deficiency on a vegan diet - Muhdo

Vitamin B12, as the name suggests, is part of the B complex of vitamins. These are involved in energy metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and the development and normal functionality of the brain and nervous system.

B12 is fairly unique and includes the following:

  1. Unlike other B vitamins, no plant or animal can make vitamin B12, except for microorganisms like fungi and bacteria. Therefore, only animal sources contain B12 since plants cannot manufacture or store it.
  • Mushrooms can often contain B12 but in extremely small amounts.
  • B vitamins are not stored well in the body normally, but vitamin B12 can be stored from anywhere between 3 to 5 years
  • Most B vitamins are more easily absorbed than vitamin B12, which has more complicated requirements for absorption.
  • Vitamin B12 is also the only vitamin that contains a metal element (cobalt), hence why the chemical name cobalamin.

Supplementing Vitamin B12

Now, the first hurdle faced following an exclusively plant-based diet is getting sufficient levels of B12. Unfortunately, unless you are eating your bodyweight in mushrooms each day (which isn’t feasible), then your B12 levels will be extremely low. Hence why the vast majority of vegans should be supplementing with B12.

Vitamin B12, alongside a whole array of other nutrients such as folate, choline as well as other B-vitamins, is crucial in keeping our DNA and genes healthy through a process called methylation. 

There are a whole variety of genes such as TCN1, TCN2, FUT2 and MTHFR that will affect your ability to absorb and then metabolise B12 effectively.

For instance, TCN1 encodes for a glycoprotein that protects B12 whilst it gets transported through the stomach. If the first part of this process is disrupted it will affect your B12 levels, so even if you are consuming healthy amounts of B12 each day, your levels will still be affected by the specific genetic variation that we all individually have.

Plant-based diets and knowing your genetic variants

As previously mentioned, we have a variety of other genes that are crucial for B12 breakdown, absorption then genetic conversion. Knowing which variation you have is the first piece of the puzzle to understanding how well you absorb and convert Vitamin B12.

If you’re a vegan with poor gene variants, then you’ll need to be militant with your supplementation and even then, if you’re taking a poor quality B12 such as cyanocobalamin deficiency will be around the corner.

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