Vitamin B₁₂ and vegetarian diets

Med J Aust. 2013 Aug 19;199(S4):S27-32.

Abstract

Vitamin B₁₂ is found almost exclusively in animal-based foods and is therefore a nutrient of potential concern for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Vegans, and anyone who significantly limits intake of animal-based foods, require vitamin B₁₂-fortified foods or supplements. Vitamin B₁₂ deficiency has several stages and may be present even if a person does not have anaemia. Anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet should have their vitamin B₁₂ status regularly assessed to identify a potential problem. A useful process for assessing vitamin B₁₂ status in clinical practice is the combination of taking a diet history, testing serum vitamin B₁₂ level and testing homocysteine, holotranscobalamin II or methylmalonic acid serum levels. Pregnant and lactating vegan or vegetarian women should ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B₁₂ to provide for their developing baby. In people who can absorb vitamin B₁₂, small amounts (in line with the recommended dietary intake) and frequent (daily) doses appear to be more effective than infrequent large doses, including intramuscular injections. Fortification of a wider range of foods products with vitamin B₁₂, particularly foods commonly consumed by vegetarians, is likely to be beneficial, and the feasibility of this should be explored by relevant food authorities.

MeSH terms

  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Vitamin B 12* / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin B 12* / metabolism

Substances

  • Vitamin B 12