Vegan? On The Pill? Better Get That B-12!

When we hear about vitamin deficiencies, most of us think back to sailors with scurvy, or other long-ago issues that we must have remedied by now.


But the truth is that many of us don’t have optimal levels of all of our vitamins and minerals. Sometimes it’s because your diet is restricted due to allergies or sensitivities, other times it’s because the medication you’re taking is acting to deplete your vitamin stores.


Even if you don’t have a major disease or issue because of your deficiency, a small, subclinical deficiency often results in having lower energy, being tired, or just feeling “blah”.


This is especially true for Vitamin B12. It’s estimated that up to 15% of the US population is actually deficient in this important vitamin! Recent research has shown that lower B12 is associated with aging, autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s. Just another reason to make sure you have enough of this important vitamin!


What does Vitamin B12 do?

Vitamin B12 has many crucial functions in our body. First, it helps protect our nerves in our brain. B12 forms the myelin that surrounds the cells and makes sure that we send nerve signals efficiently. B12 helps us form our red blood cells, so we can carry necessary oxygen to every cell of our body. It helps us form DNA, the most important part of our cells. 

Without enough B12, we can feel tired, lethargic, develop anemia, and eventually cause nerve damage and experience neuropathy.


Where can you get Vitamin B12?

B12, important as it is, is relatively difficult to get compared to other vitamins. B12 is primarily found only in animal products – it’s highest levels are seen in clams, mackerel, and liver. There are a few vegetarian sources of B12, including shiitake mushrooms and spirulina, but it’s important that the exact sources have been tested and show that they have B12, as several varieties don’t actually contain Vitamin B12.


Should you think about supplementing
with Vitamin B12?

There are several cases where supplementing with Vitamin B12 may be necessary. If you fall into one of the following categories, consider picking up a Vitamin B12 supplement.


  1. You’re vegetarian/vegan. As I mentioned above, most B12 is found in animal and meat products. If you limit your intake of animal products, you’re getting a lot less B12 than most people, and a B12 supplement is a great idea.
  2. You take birth control pills. Oral contraceptives are good for lots of things, but they also have some negative side effects, one of which is draining your levels of Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins.
  3. You have a MTHFR mutation. MTHFR is a gene that acts to reduce homocysteine (a protein found in our blood that’s associated with injury to our blood vessels and cardiovascular disease). B12 is needed to reduce those homocysteine levels, so if you have the MTHFR gene, you need more B12 to help promote that reaction and reduce homocysteine in your blood.
  4. You have high folate levels. Folate, another B vitamin, works in concert with B12 to form red blood cells. However, research has shown that high levels of folate can actually mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Because all grain products are supplemented with folate in the US, it’s quite possible to have a folate level that’s too high, and potentially making your vitamin B12 levels look higher than they are.


These four cases are actually quite common. That means many of us may benefit from a vitamin B12 supplement. 

Luckily, Ora’s new multivitamin will include high quality Vitamin B12 from shiitake mushrooms, so you can have a plant-based, quality supplement that will boost your energy and protect your body from a deficiency.


About the Author

Samantha Attard, PhD RYT, is a wellness coach, health consultant, and yoga teacher with a PhD in Nutrition from UNC – Chapel Hill. Sam helps ambitious adults build healthy habits and live with less stress and more happiness, so they have time and energy for the things that matter to them. You can find out more about Sam at, or watch her nutrition broadcasts on Periscope @happyhealthysam.

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