Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine: Vegans Need B12

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.

11 Responses to “Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine: Vegans Need B12”

  1. Mike Says:

    The last paragraph reads like a joke when you consider the content of this article.

    “Controversies like this are a big driving force behind why vegans tend to be some of the most well-educated people on the planet when it comes to nutrition. What’s more, we tend to educate others.”

  2. Greg Says:

    Why does none of your articles have the factual information that vitamin b12 is actually produced by the human body. You do not get or need to get 100% of your b12 from external sources.

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Greg,

    > Why does none of your articles have the factual information that vitamin b12 is actually produced by the human body.

    The point of my articles is that the body doesn’t make it’s own B12. There are bacteria in the human colon that produce vitamin B12, but it’s past the point in the digestive tract where B12 is absorbed so unless you have an overgrowth of bacteria into your small intestines, you can’t absorb it.

  4. Michael Greger, M.D. Says:

    Thanks for posting, Jack–I’ll try to help spread the word.
    -Michael

    Michael Greger, M.D.
    DrGreger.org
    NutritionFacts.org
    ● Facebook: facebook.com/NutritionFacts.org
    ● G+: plus.google.com/+NutritionfactsOrgMD
    ● Twitter: twitter.com/nutrition_facts
    ● Instagram: instagram.com/nutrition_facts_org
    ● Podcast: bit.ly/NFpodcast
    ● Subscribe: nutritionfacts.org/subscribe/
    ● Donate: NutritionFacts.org/donate
    ● Pre-order HOW NOT TO DIE:
    http://NutritionFacts.org/book

  5. BioMed IRB Says:

    Does eating fermenting foods (kinchi, kombucha) make a contribution of the bacteria along with the vitamin B-12?

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    BioMed IRB–

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/b12-in-fermented-foods-korean-centenarians/

  7. Hadley Johnson Says:

    Jack, thank you for this article. I have been meeting more and make vegans lately who take the stance of this magazine. It seems to stem from a defensiveness that suggesting that supplementation is necessary means a vegan diet is intrinsically inadequate. From what I understand however, are not most people eating especially ones eating the SAD at risk for deficiency? Soil quality is so poor are not we all at risk? This is what I usually point out when met with resistance to B12 supplementation, is it correct?
    Thank you.

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Hadley,

    I’m skeptical that humans ever got significant amounts of vitamin B12 from the soil, but rather relied on animal products including insects. Here is an article I wrote that explains my view:

    http://veganhealth.org/b12/natural

  9. Mike Says:

    I wrote a comment on Ginny Messina’s Facebook page recently touching on what Hadley has said. I think we should tackle this issue head on and be fully honest with people: Yes, a vegan diet is intrinsically inadequate because it was invented by humans several decades ago, but supplements/fortified foods fix that. Let’s drop the veganism-is-natural theme and move on. Like Tom Billings of beyondveg.com said long time ago: stop claiming veganism is natural and “ditch the burden”.

  10. Kim Says:

    Okay, but let’s get something straight: the number of vegans that – to our knowledge – have issues with B12 is very, very small. The extreme cases you discuss in your work are exceedingly rare. At this point, it’s still theoretically possible that most of us would never have issues with B12 over the course of our lives even if we didn’t supplement, and that the reasons a small number of us do end up with them are not known. As we learn more, it’s possible we’ll figure out supplementation isn’t necessary so long as people are doing the right things (whatever those are, whether it be eating certain foods grown in certain regions, etc.).

    That said, who’s willing to risk being one of these people that runs into issues, minor or more serious? Spinal cord degeneration, blindness, paralysis, etc… I know I’m not. I eat the occasional fortified foods, and take a little supplement almost everyday. But that brings me to challenging the recommendation to consume huge quantities of B12 like 1000 or 2500 mcg a week or 250 mcg a day. I know the risk of toxicity is nil, but who’s to say if in time we might not discover that there are downsides to taking these kinds of amounts of it over the longterm? Other B vitamin supplements (like folic acid) have been connected to increased cancer incidence, so is it not conceivable that longterm high-doses of B12 might pose issues as well? I know when I take even just 50 mcg a day, I get this mild, rash-like acne on my face; crushing the pills and taking a small amount (5-10 mcg’s worth a day) doesn’t have this effect. I prefer to get this amount, which seems more in keeping with what our bodies can absorb and doesn’t give me any obvious side effects.

  11. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Kim,

    > Okay, but let’s get something straight: the number of vegans that – to our knowledge – have issues with B12 is very, very small.

    I strongly disagree with this. Vegans who don’t eat fortified foods or take supplements commonly end up with B12 deficiency symptoms and it’s no mystery at all as to why.

    But, again, as I’ve said many times, there is a problem with subclinical deficiency (which means someone with B12 deficiency but who has no obvious symptoms). Have you read this?

    http://veganhealth.org/b12/hcy#dementia

    If you read that entire article and you’d still rather take your chances because a high B12 intake might cause more problems than it can solve, then that’s fair enough.

Leave a Reply