Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements
Since vitamin B12 is exclusively found in animal food products, vegan B12 should be obtained via the corresponding supplements. In order to meet this requirement, many manufacturers offer vitamin B12 supplements today which are produced vegan and some of which have the corresponding certificate too.
In spite of this, there are still some products which amazingly are missing the certification. Unfortunately, this isn’t always simply apparent at first glance, either. Vegans who want to be certain should look for the appropriate certificate or for the classification of a product as a vegan supplement.
This article is designed to inform you about what to look for when choosing a vegan supplement, along with the different active ingredients, various critical additives and the correct dosages to take.
Are Vitamin B12 Supplements Vegan?
Vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 supplements is now exclusively created biochemically with help from microorganisms and not – as many think – extracted from animal products. Vitamin B12 as an ingredient is thus vegan. Animal testing is also nowhere to be found, with the exception of vitamin B12 creams.
Non-Vegan Additives in Vitamin B12 Supplements
Certain vitamin B12 products contain non-vegan additives, however. Among the most obvious are:
- Intrinsic factor
Lactose features above all in lozenges, gelatine in the shell of capsules and the coating of tablets, and intrinsic factor as a rare additive in special supplements.
These obvious animal-based additives aside, there are two further additives which can be either from either animals or plants:
- Magnesium stearate
- Stearic acid
For economic reasons, herbal sources are used most often, but this isn’t always the case. Some manufacturers display the vegetative origins clearly (e.g. ‘plant-based magnesium stearate’), but we can verify through contact with numerous manufacturers that the absence of this classification doesn’t always mean that the substance is an animal product. As a general rule, a label stating ‘suitable for vegans’ should be respected for these ingredients.
The least criticized additives are typically found in injections and capsules, the most criticized in pills. Vegans are therefore clearly better off with shots or capsules than tablets.
Vegan Certificates and Seals
Various vegan organisations give out certificates and corresponding seals of approval which guarantee that a product was made in a vegan way. These certificates are fortunately being used more and more with vitamin B12 products.
Vegan Society (UK)
European Vegetarian Union (Switzerland)
Vegan OK (Italy)
The Correct Dosage of B12 for Vegan Nutrition
Provided that there are no preexisting absorption or usage disorders, vegans can take vitamin B12 to cover their daily requirements. The Vegan Society1 recommend the following for oral supplements: one supplement daily of at least 10 µg, or one weekly of 2000 µg.
This is a little higher than the current recommendation of the DGE (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung, German Organisation for Nutrition), which stands at 3 µg/day, but is reflective of more up-to-date scientific knowledge of the current daily requirement for vitamin B12.2
As a result of the way in which vitamin B12 is used, these recommendations need to be treated with caution. In a dose of 10 µg, only an average of 1.6 µg is actually absorbed – which is obviously not enough to cover the daily requirement.
The actual absorption level is made up of a combination of two methods of absorption: intake through the transport protein intrinsic factor (IF) and absorption through passive diffusion. Around 1.5 – 2 µg is absorbed through the intrinsic factor, because the number of corresponding receptors in the intestine is limited. A further 1 percent of the dose is absorbed through passive diffusion in the blood.
In order to prevent a deficiency, the following doses are recommended:
- At least 250 µg daily
- or 2500 µg per week
Higher dosages make sense for those with absorption disorders and in times of higher stress. There is also clearly a difference between a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of a vegan diet and one caused by absorption problems, where dosages of 500 – 1000 µg daily are practical and necessary.
Overview of Dosages
The following table is a summary of possible dosages for different supplements:
Oral (pills, capsules, drops)
250 µg daily
100 µg every two weeks
1000 µg per month
Are all Active Ingredients in Vitamin B12 Supplements Vegan?
Every active ingredient is vegan. Hydroxocobalamin is produced from microorganisms, from which cyanocobalamin is produced chemically. Methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are typically manufactured in a third step from cyanocobalamin, which is the most stable form of vitamin B12.
The individual active ingredients can be used with varying success by the body. Here, vegan supplements behave in exactly the same way as all other B12 supplements, so we would ask readers to refer to the corresponding articles on the various supplements for this information.
Vitamin B12 Supplements: a Must for Vegans?
The vegan diet can be one of the healthiest and today receives more backing than ever from nutritionists the world over. Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient which is practically impossible to obtain from this vegan diet. Unfortunately, this fact is largely still unknown to many vegans, meaning the level of vitamin B12 deficiency amongst vegans is extremely high (40-90%). The risks are often underestimated. Nutritionists and vegan associations worldwide are in agreement: taking vitamin B12 supplements is highly recommendable for vegans. With this tiny addition, a healthy, vegan diet is no longer hindered.
Regular Intake is Important
Since the vegan diet delivers hardly any vitamin B12, the B12 body storage is depleted over time. The amount provided by oral supplements is often not enough to cover more than the recommended daily intake and should thus be taken regularly. Over time, this quantity will slowly fill up the body’s B12 store, giving the body a cushion in times when no B12 is taken. Despite this it is still recommended to continuously take vitamin B12, as if it were a part of the regular diet.
This is easy to view as a burden; but when you consider the many positive effects of a vegan diet on a person’s health, environment and of course animals, it is a really small price to pay, which every vegan should be happy to do.
2Mustafa Vakur Bor, Kristina M von Castel-Roberts, Gail PA Kauwell, Sally P Stabler, Robert H Allen, David R Maneval, Lynn B Bailey Ebba Nexo „Daily intake of 4 to 7 µg dietary vitamin B-12 is associated with steady concentrations of vitamin B-12–related biomarkers in a healthy young population“ Am J Clin Nutr 2010 91: 3 571-577; First published online January 13, 2010. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28082.