Over the past couple of years a number of readers and colleagues have contacted me about the apparent stance of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine (VHFM) that vegans do not need to supplement with vitamin B12. People have contacted the magazine about this issue but they have not modified their position.
Currently, VHFM has an article, The Science is in: B12, by Brian Acree, which has been available for some time (no publication date is listed).
Despite the name of the article, Acree suggests that the science is actually not in. He argues that we have no definitive answers, but that if vegans eat a variety of plant foods, including foods like seaweed, we’ll be fine.
Acree bases his argument mostly on research from the Watanabe group, research that I detail in B12 in Plant Foods.
Acree says, “Of particular interest is the fact that Watanabe cited two studies that showed that vegans who consumed nori and/or chlorella (the green substance in all green vegetables) had serum vitamin B-12 concentrations ‘twice as high as those not consuming these algae.'”
Acree appears to be mistaking the algae, chlorella, for the molecule chlorophyll and, because of this mistake, seems to be suggesting that all green vegetables contain B12. But in reality, chlorophyll has nothing to do with vitamin B12.
Readers of this blog probably remember that just a couple weeks ago, and after this article by Acree was published, the first study came out indicating that chlorella has B12 activity (see Chlorella Shown to Have B12 Activity in Humans—Caution Warranted).
As for nori, in the one study looking at nori’s B12 activity in humans, it didn’t have any (more info).
In 2014, VHFM ran an article by Deobrah Nasmyth that pointed out that the editor of VHFM, Brenda Carey, doesn’t take B12 supplements or eat fortified foods and hasn’t developed B12 deficiency. Acree also uses his own personal lack of B12 deficiency symptoms as evidence that vegans don’t need to supplement with B12.
The problem with this reasoning is that unless you’re getting your methylmalonic acid and homocysteine levels checked, there’s no way for someone to know they don’t have B12 deficiency.
The study on chlorella mentioned above shows that many vegans come down with vitamin B12 deficiency due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet. Long periods of mild B12 deficiency are linked with dementia, and poor bone health in vegans.
And even if some vegans don’t develop vitamin B12 deficiency or obvious symptoms, too many vegans do develop them and sometimes with horrible consequences (see the Background section of Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It).
It’s not worth risking people’s health in order to make a philosophical statement and I hope to see Vegan Health & Fitness take a more responsible position regarding vitamin B12.