The most controversial vitamin among them all, quite possibly, vitamin B12 is something everyone must have and must have enough of in order to be healthy. This one vitamin keeps our blood, nervous system, and heart-healthy — it even helps make DNA — the genetic makeup of our bodies. It fuels our brain, metabolism, and even affects our digestion and how we absorb food. You might also be aware that it prevents a type of anemia that can cause fatigue and overall low energy.
It’s common knowledge that vitamin B12 is found in animal-based foods, primarily meat, eggs, and dairy. However, eating too much animal protein can cause significant inflammatory health problems in the body, not to mention long-term effects of an animal protein-heavy diet prove that we need another answer for our diets in helping ensure long-term health.
Why B12 is Non-Negotiable
Vegans and vegetarians are all recommended to consume a vitamin B12 supplement. It’s non-negotiable but doesn’t signify that a plant-based diet is somehow lacking. On the contrary, due to the abundance of nutrition in the plant-based nutritional realm, the body gets overall more nutrients eating plants than it does typical diets higher in large amounts of animal products. However, vitamin B12 is a nutrient we should all stay on top of when making sure we get enough. Even meat eaters may need to consume it if they aren’t absorbing nutrients from their foods properly or have other health issues interfering with their body manufacturing the vitamin efficiently.
Signs the body is low in vitamin B12 can include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Lack of energy
- Lack of appetite
- Ringing in the ears
- Feeling out of breath
- Yellow Skin
Why Supplementation is Smart: Absorption Factors
For various reasons, people absorb vitamins and minerals at different efficiency rates from both foods and supplements. Food pairings, malabsorption, genetics, digestive health … so many things can affect how our bodies digest and process the foods we eat and break them down into nutrients. The same goes for supplementation. A person may take many types of vitamins and minerals orally, but if their body can’t use them properly, they’re largely going to waste if they’re not being fully absorbed. This is especially true with vitamin B12 because it’s available in many different forms.
If you were to go to the store and take a look at all the vitamin B12 supplements out there, you’d likely feel a bit overwhelmed. All types of names, dosage amounts, and forms (liquids, tablets, powders) are available. So which ones should you choose and what’s the best option?
What to Look for When Buying B12
Here are 5 things to look for when purchasing your next vitamin B12 supplement:
1. First, buy a supplement, not a fortified, processed food.
Fortified foods often tout that they contain vitamin B12 on a label, but don’t just pick up the package and assume you’re safe. Consuming vitamin B12 through fortified non-dairy milk or a box of cereal may be safe — some may even be slightly effective — but overall, isn’t the smartest option for optimal reliance because these are synthetic (not authentic) sources. This means you could be taking in a less-than-optimal form your body can’t absorb as much as it can from a non-synthetic supplement. You also can’t really know if your body is using these the same as authentic sources. Many fortified foods also come with added sugars, oils, food additives, and more that could affect other aspects of your health or possible absorption issues. Since vitamin B12 comes from a living bacteria species in the soil, it’s always smart to choose the best product for your health that you can by choosing a high-quality supplement over fortified, processed foods.
2. Check that it’s vegan.
Next, be sure you’re not taking in vitamin B12 from an animal-based source. Why? Because even if you’re not vegan, taking in animal ingredients in supplement form isn’t a smart choice or necessity. Most vegan brands on the market are even non-GMO, and some are even organic and allergen-free. So be sure you read the back of the label and see if it’s vegan-certified. Remember, you should view supplements the same way you do food: read labels, be smart, and be knowledgeable about what you’re spending your money on (and ensuring your health with).
3. Buy methylcobalamin forms (methyl B12).
You’ll typically see two types of vitamin B12 supplements on the market: methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin. (Another type, hydroxycobalamin, is also available, but much less common on the market). Don’t let these names confuse you … just remember to be sure you choose methylcobalamin above all other types. You’ll see this listed on the nutrition panel of the supplement on the back; it may also read “methyl” instead of methycobalamin.
Why is this important? Though experts have varying opinions on this, methyl vitamin B12 has largely been shown to be absorbed much better than other forms. Here’s why: the difference between the two lies in the chemical structure of vitamin B12. Methylcobalamin contains a methyl group (carbon and hydrogen) and cyanocobalamin contains a cyanide group. Cyanide shouldn’t be something you find in a vitamin because it only exists because it is synthesized in a lab and is not found in a living organism (the bacteria that B12 comes from).
Synthetic vitamins can pose many potential problems when it comes to absorption; the body simply doesn’t recognize laboratory ingredients as well as real nutrients — from food or from vitamin supplements. So remember, go with methyl forms however you can. This is one reason it’s best not to rely on fortified foods because they often contain the synthetic form because they’re produced in a food lab. Methyl has also been shown to stay in the body longer amounts of time, therefore you may not need to take it as often or your body may be able to use it longer for the best benefits. If you find a whole food-based vegan multivitamin, also ensure it has significant amounts of vitamin B12 in the methyl form.
4. Choose a sublingual, sprays, or liquid.
You can certainly take tablet forms of B12 if you like, but keep in mind that the benefits of sublingual, sprays or liquid forms mean that the vitamin doesn’t have to be digested before being used. Sublingual supplements are like tablets except they melt under the tongue where they immediately enter the bloodstream. The same goes for sprays and liquids. This means they do the job they’re meant to do as soon as possible rather than having to be processed through digestion first. Select sublingual or liquid forms of vitamin B12 that don’t add refined sugars, food coloring, or other harmful flavoring agents often used in cheap varieties to enhance the flavor. There are many non-GMO, vegan, and organic brands to choose from that are effective and easy to find.
5. Choose the right dosage for you.
You’ll also see many different dosage varieties out there when it comes to vitamin B12. Most range from 500 mcg (micrograms) all the way up to 5,000 mcg (micrograms) which are the ranges safely sold over the counter. (Higher doses are available through shots and injections but typically only available through a physician’s approval and administration for individuals suffering extremely low, unhealthy levels.)
So how much do you need? If you’re vegan, there’s no need to jump to a high dose out of fear just because you’re not eating animal sources. More isn’t always better when it comes to supplements. However, if you are taking vitamin B12 and still suffering extreme fatigue, anemia, or nervous system health issues, feel free to see if you benefit from a higher dose. Or, start out at a mid-range such as 1,000 and increase to 2,000 or 5,000 mcg if needed. Daily doses are safe at these lower levels (once daily), while some people may only choose to use them weekly at a higher dose. Those getting patches or shots from a doctor typically only receive them every few months because they’re much more potent and not meant to be used daily or weekly.
Overall, vitamin B12 supplements are very safe, easy to find, very affordable per serving, and if you choose a good brand, they make the perfect addition to an already well-rounded, healthy diet. Don’t be afraid to use high-quality supplements when necessary. This is a proactive health choice, not a sign of an unhealthy diet or poor state of health.
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