Do vegans and vegetarians have lower B12 levels and higher rates of B12 deficiency? A quick overview of the research.

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Among omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK in the EPIC-Oxford study, the omnivores had the highest, vegetarians had intermediate, and vegans had the lowest blood B12 levels.

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Source: http://www.epic-oxford.org/publications/1554/serum-concentrations-of-folate-and-votamin-b12-by-diet-group

A systematic review on the subject found that “With few exceptions, the reviewed studies documented relatively high deficiency prevalence among vegetarians.”

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Source: https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24667752

Citing Seventh Day Adventist studies showing better B12 status among vegans and vegetarians than among omnivores, such as https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/6/722, shows how vegans CAN have good B12 status, but it if the goal is to demonstrate B12 status in MOST populations, this is misleading.

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Source: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/6/722

It is likely that among cultures such as Seventh Day Adventists in whom veganism and vegetarianism is common, B12 supplements are better recognized as essential. Among most other populations, however, veganism and vegetarianism seems to be a risk factor for B12 deficiency.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks, Kevin. We have been following every article you publish. We’ve been vegans for a very long time. We supplement ONLY with B12 once a week or often every couple of weeks. Our B12 is at the top of normal limits. (We spend reasonable amounts of time in the sun and our vitamin D is within normal limits.)

    1. I recently watched a Vegan Gains video (https://youtu.be/Mpo_Crsm9XI?t=160) where he cites research that shows 71% of vegans quit after a couple years. So any studies done on vegans seem like it would be done on people who seem to have the genetics that allow them to have better success on a vegan diet (like better beta-carotene->retinol conversion, etc). Even then, it looks like (from Kevin’s research) long-term vegans still risk deficiencies.

      Kevin, I know a “debate” with Vegan Gains would probably seem beneath you but I think it would help get your message out to vegan-curious people who watch these youtube channels.

  2. The EPIC data pre-dates the widespread use of social media to share information – there was far less awareness of the need for B12 supplementation/fortified foods 20 years ago which probably explains the remarkably low levels of supplement use (just 19%) by EPIC vegans.

    The change to the contemporary use of supplements is further demonstrated by a 2017 Swiss study (DOI: 10.1007/s00394-015-1079-7 Micronutrient status and intake in omnivores, vegetarians and vegans in Switzerland) which concludes:
    “Despite negligible dietary vitamin B12 intake in the vegan group, deficiency of this particular vitamin was low in all groups thanks to widespread use of supplements”

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