Let’s put it this way, if you’be been following a Vegan diet for more than 3 years and haven’t taken measures to ensure you’re getting it, you may be in trouble. The body can store enough B12 to survive between 3-5 years (so you don’t really need to concern yourself if Veganuary is literally just that; in January!), but signs of a deficiency may start to manifest after 2 years depending on overall health and lifestyle.
B12 is found naturally in meat, fish, eggs and dairy, none of which you’ll find in a vegan diet ofcourse. However you will find a lot of fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, ‘milks’, spreads and even fruit juices to make sure you are consuming the recommended daily intake of 1.8-2.8mcg. Putting that into food terms, that’s around 3 servings of a fortified food a day. Eg. 2 servings fortified Almond Milk and 1 of fortified spread and yeast extract.
Absorption rates vary widely and can be as low as 50% in some people. Some medication, antacids and age can all impede assimilation which means those individuals will need twice as much.
There are very few cases of real deficiency thankfully due to the body’s ability to store it, awareness and the fortifying of many common foods these days. You can ofcourse also supplement if you’re happier doing that.
There are some excellent products for Vegans containing B12, Vitamin D and Omega 3; the vitamins normally provided by a carnivorous diet, and harder to find from a plant based one.
Why is B12 so important?
Here’s a paragraph from ‘The Vegan Society’ on the topic:
“In adults typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes. Often these symptoms develop gradually over several months to a year before being recognised as being due to B12 deficiency and they are usually reversible on administration of B12. There is however no entirely consistent and reliable set of symptoms and there are cases of permanent damage in adults from B12 deficiency. If you suspect a problem then get a skilled diagnosis from a medical practitioner as each of these symptoms can also be caused by problems other than B12 deficiency”.
To summarise.. you’ve got to try hard to become deficient if you’re regularly consuming fortified foods, but if you‘re taking Diabetic medication Metformin, PPI’s such as Omeprazole or regular ‘over the counter‘ heartburn treatments you may be at risk due to poor absorption rates, and will therefore need to consume more. A good supplement once a week is probably a good idea if you fall into that category.