Doctors and scientists agree that vegan diet is generally very healthy. Vegans have low cholesterol and lower rates of severe food-related diseases. Studies also confirm that a plant-based diet can reverse diabetes. As long as you eat healthy wholefood products you can enjoy a lot of physical and mental benefits. But there is one problem - vegan diet may lead to B12 deficiency.
Some vegans forget that they should take a vitamin B12 supplement.
What happens when you have B12 deficiency?
B12 is an important vitamin that helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy. It plays an important role in white blood cell production, and they are essential for proper immune system functioning.
According to doctors, if you don’t take B12 vitamin you risk peripheral neuropathy. It’s a condition that causes permanent numbness in feet and hands. And it’s irreversible.
“I’m concerned that many people think it is a myth,” said Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London. "Internet claims that vegans do not need extra B12 were not evidence-based," he said.
According to recent studies, B12 levels in vegans are about 30% of what is considered a normal level. Doctors say that young people and children are at particular risk. There was a case of a baby who was breastfed by a mother who was B12 deficient and had neuropathy.
Tim Key, professor of epidemiology at Oxford University, is vegan himself says that he takes B12 regularly.
Plant-based milk producers could easily change that by fortifying milks with B12.
“Levels should be higher in plant milks than they are at the moment. If they were three times higher, there wouldn’t be a problem.” they say.
Are vegans healthier than meat-eaters?
Key and Sanders have studied the health of vegans for many years but they both admit there is not enough research yet. There is data on about 10,000 people in total.
“It’s not enough. We don’t have precise estimates of long term health in vegans,” said Key.
Both scientists admit that vegans have generally better health, low rates of diabetes and colon disease, low cholesterol and low rates of heart disease and cancer. They are not overweight. A vegan diet that is high in fruit and vegetables and legumes is likely to be healthy, but vegans tend to eat too many snacks and sweets.
Vegans may have higher rates of hemorrhagic stroke and bone fractures.
“That might have something to do with calcium and possibly even B12,” said Key.
How can I choose the best supplement?
If you think that you are B12 deficient, you should visit your doctor. He or she will tell you how much of B12 you need, as well as which supplement will work best for you. Finding B12 is not difficult - there are many supplements for vegans available on the market.