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Every Second Vegan Suffers from Vitamin B12 Deficiency. We’ve Got the Solution.

Chemical formula for cyanocobalamin—the form of vitamin B12 most commonly used in the food industry.

When talking about veganism, the conversation almost always turns to vitamin B12. This is because animal foods are the primary sources of B12, so many vegans (and even non-vegans) suffer from a deficiency thereof. Why is B12 so important? Is it sufficiently present in plant sources? Are fermented foods a solution? What should you know about the different forms of the vitamin, as well as B12 nutritional supplements? And what about the B12 in Mana? Make yourself comfortable and we’ll explain everything you need to know about this important vitamin.

Let us start with a definition. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water soluble vitamin and key nutrient for the well-being of cells. It plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, cell metabolism, nerve cell function, normal homocysteine metabolism and DNA synthesis. It therefore impacts the functioning of the entire human body.

Cobalamin is an essential vitamin, which means that the body cannot produce it on its own; we must get it from food/fortified food or nutritional supplements. Insufficient consumption or absorption of vitamin B12 can therefore lead to deficiency.

B12 deficiency

Cobalamin deficiency is associated with a number of health risks—first and foremost megaloblastic anemia. This is because, as aforementioned, it plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells. Typical symptoms are fatigue, general weakness, and paleness of skin.

B12 deficiency can also lead to neuropathy (nerve damage), which is manifested by tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. In more serious cases, it can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, and general confusion.

Low cobalamin levels over a long period of time have additionally been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. In 2018, researchers from the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society published a study that demonstrated a link between low B12 levels and the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Conversely, according to a study published in the American Academy of Neurology Journals, slightly above-average levels of cobalamin help prevent brain atrophy. There have also been a number of cases where patients using antidepressants improved their symptoms of depression when combining treatment with B12 supplements.

Vegans are the highest risk group

About 1.5% of the general population suffers from B12 deficiency, but incidence is growing dramatically among certain population groups for the following 3 reasons:

  • Insufficient intake through food (vegans, vegetarians)
  • Insufficient absorption by the body (the elderly, patients with gastroenterological diseases such as Crohn's disease, pancreatitis, and celiac disease, and those who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery)
  • Increased need (typically during pregnancy)

Among those age 60+, the incidence of B12 deficiency is around 15%. This is related to reduced stomach acidity, which is important for the absorption of cobalamin.

In pregnant women, increased need for vitamin B12 is due to the crucial role it plays in hematopoiesis and growth. Several studies have shown that over a third of pregnant women suffer from B12 deficiency. In such cases, not only are the mothers affected, but the children are at risk of serious congenital diseases known as neural tube defects.

Vegans who eat no foods of animal origin—the primary sources of B12—will be examined in a separate section of this article, as they are at the greatest risk. Statistics vary, but according to a study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, every second vegan suffers from cobalamin deficiency (47.8%).

There are no sufficient plant sources of B12

Now, we will get to the main questions of this article: What is the relationship between vegan/vegetarian diets and B12? Can Mana, as 100% vegan food, ensure sufficient daily intake of cobalamin? In order to answer these questions and better understand vitamin B12, we must examine where B12 comes from.

Vitamin B12 is produced by various strains of bacteria living in the digestive system of animals or in soil, whence they enter the bodies of animals. The vitamin is then synthesized and passes into the muscles and intestines of the animals. The most important source of B12 is therefore meat—especially beef, but also poultry, fish, and other animal products such as eggs and milk. The richest source is liver, where cobalamin is stored.

It is a little-known fact that cobalamin is transferred from soil to water and the surfaces of plants, but these are not as good a host for bacteria as the digestive tracts of animals. Not to mention hygienic requirements for the disinfection of water and washing of food. Foods of plant origin can only be a source of cobalamin if they have undergone bacterial fermentation. Although many vegans believe otherwise, fermented foods alone cannot cover daily B12 requirements.

Interestingly, the human body (or more specifically the bacterial microflora of the colon) produces B12 to a certain extent. The problem with this, however, is that this B12 is absorbed into the blood in the small intestine and only binds to the intrinsic factor (transport protein), which is already produced in the stomach. This is past the point of B12 absorption in the digestive tract, i.e. too far along.

What does all of this mean? If you eat an exclusively plant-based diet, then it is highly likely that you will need to supplement your B12 intake with either nutritional supplements or fortified foods. Consumption of fermented foods like tofu will help, but it won’t be enough. The 4 most common forms of B12 in nutritional supplements are: 

  • Methylcobalamin
  • Adenosylcobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin
  • Hydroxocobalamin

Don’t be put off by these terms. They are not as complicated as they seem!

Cyanocobalamin is the optimal form of B12

Let’s start with methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin—the forms of B12 that occur in nature (i.e. in soil, the bodies of animals, and fermented foods). Although both of these are bioactive forms of B12, we do not see them very often in nutritional supplements due to their low stability against oxidation and light. Nevertheless, methylcobalamin is popular in Japan, for example, where it is used to alleviate degenerative neurological symptoms.

Hydroxocobalamin is another natural form of vitamin B12. As a supplement, it is used to treat symptoms of B12 deficiency, including anemia. Clinically, it is used to detoxify cyanide or hydrogen cyanide (e.g. in response to smoke poisoning).

Cyanocobalamin is the form most used in food supplements and fortified foods. It is the most researched (subject to laboratory and clinical studies for decades) and most stable form of cobalamin, and is easily converted by the body into bioactive forms of methyl- and adenosylcobalamin.

But cyanocobalamin does not occur in nature, so it must be formed semi-synthetically. Actually, the same is true of methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin when they are produced for use in nutritional supplements. Synthesis is a biotechnological process in which vitamin B12 is produced by specific microorganisms (using their own biochemical apparatus), which are cultivated in bioreactors and supplied with nutrients. The B12 formed thereby is then extracted and processed into powdered cyanocobalamin.

Eat Mana regularly? Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Mana is a source of vitamin B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin. 1 serving of ManaPowder contains 2.2 μg, which covers 88% of the reference daily intake (DRI) for Europe, which is 2.5 μg in accordance with European legislation. 1 serving of ManaDrink contains 1.8 μg of cyanocobalamin, which is 73%.

If you eat exclusively Mana and follow the recommended daily intake thereof, which is 5 servings of ManaPowder or 6 servings of ManaDrink, your total vitamin B12 intake will exceed the European RDI severalfold. There are 2 reasons for this:

  1. The RDI value is not definitive; on the contrary, it evolves. For example, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has set the RDI for B12 at 4 μg, whereas the Vegan Society in the UK puts it at 3-10 μg, depending on whether it’s taken in fortified foods or supplements.
  2. The amount of cyanocobalamin in Mana is quite high in order that it would supply as much B12 as possible to those who, for example, only consume 1-2 servings per day and do not take B12 from any other source.
Amounts in 5 servings of ManaPowder (% = Reference intake of average adult)

Another advantage of Mana is its high soluble and insoluble fibre content. This plays an important role in maintaining a healthy digestive tract and optimal metabolism, and, as we already know, absorption of B12 is a complicated process conditioned by proper functioning of the stomach and intestinal microbiome.

In conclusion, clinical conditions such as anemia should obviously be managed in cooperation with a physician and involve a regime of vitamin B12 supplementation. But if you’re concerned about getting enough B12 simply because you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian, you can rest assured that Mana will supply you with this important nutrient in a form that is safe, high-quality, and—unlike other foods—in a nutritionally complete package that includes balanced protein content, fat, fibre, carbohydrates, and other essential vitamins and minerals.


Sources:

[1] National Institutes of Health (2016) Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer.pdf

[2] Prerna Sangle, Osama Sandhu, Zarmeena Aftab, Adarsh Thomas Anthony, Safeera Khan (2020) ​​Vitamin B12 Supplementation: Preventing Onset and Improving Prognosis of Depression.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7688056/

[3] Larry L. Johnson (2020) Vitamin B12 Deficiency.
https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/vitamins/vitamin-b12-deficiency 

[4] ​R. Pawlak, S. E. Lester (2014) The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12.
https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn201446#ref-CR32

[5] Drobníková Eva (2012) Vitamin B12 základní aspekty ve výživě a zdraví.
https://is.muni.cz/th/dc9zi/Konecna_verze_bakalarske_prace.pdf 

[6] The Vegan Society. Vitamin B12.
https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12

[7] Eberhard Lurz, Rachael G. Horne, Pekka Määttänen, Richard Y. Wu (2020) Vitamin B12 Deficiency Alters the Gut Microbiota in a Murine.
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00083/full

[8] H. Schjonsby (1989) Vitamin B12 absorption and malabsorption.
https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/30/12/1686.full.pdf 

[9] Dr. Schweikart Verlag. Vitamin B12 und Gesundheit.
https://www.vitaminb12.de/vegetarier-veganer/ 

[10] Fiona O’Leary and Samir Samman (2010) Vitamin B12 in Health and Disease.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257642/

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