Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that is found primarily in animal products such as meats, seafood, and dairy products. Thus, if you follow a vegan diet, you are at a high risk for deficiency of this nutrient. If you become overly deficient in B12, you will likely require a blood infusion in order to bring your levels back up to a healthy level. Thus, as a vegan, it's better to prevent a B12 deficiency than it is to treat one. Read on to learn what all vegans should know about B12 deficiencies.
What are the signs of a B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in forming healthy blood. It is also essential for the function of the nervous system. If you are experiencing some or all of the following symptoms, you may be deficient in B12:
- Fatigue and weakness, even after you have put forth little exertion
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Confusion and poor memory
- Feelings of helplessness, depression, and unexplained distress
How can you prevent a B12 deficiency?
Of course, the easiest way to ensure you're getting enough B12 is to include animal products in your diet. If you are dedicated to a vegan diet, however, you'll have to turn to other options. A very small number of vegan foods do contain B12, but they are things you will have to seek out. Some plant milks (such as soy and almond milk) are fortified with B12. Read labels carefully to ensure you're buying a brand that is fortified, and make sure you're drinking it regularly. Nutritional yeast is another good source of B12. Purchase a package, and use it on popcorn, toast, and other snacks as often as possible.
If you're not able to dedicate yourself to eating plenty of plant milks and nutritional yeast, consider taking a B12 supplement. Vegan ones are few and far between since most B12 comes from animal products, but they do exist.
What should you do if you suspect you have a B12 deficiency?
If you think you might have a B12 deficiency, contact a doctor for a blood test. By the time you are deficient enough in vitamin B12 to start showing symptoms, it is typically hard to bring your levels back up with foods and supplements alone. Your doctor will likely recommend a vitamin B12 infusion or injection; in fact, you may be advised to undergo them regularly if you are unable to keep your B12 levels high enough using vegan foods and supplements.
An infusion or injection is pretty straight forward. Since the nutrient goes directly into your bloodstream, your symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency should ease up rather quickly.
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