A doctor is warning vegans not to believe internet rumours that vitamin B12 is unnecessary
- Vegan diets have been shown to protect against heart disease, lower cholesterol, and even clear up your skin.
- But going vegan and cutting out animal products like milk and beef can also result in a vitamin B12 deficiency, which doctors say can spell disaster for a vegan's health.
- A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause fatigue, depression, and has even been linked to a higher chance of stroke.
- However, there are alternatives to animal products that can help supplement your B12 intake, like over-the-counter B12 vitamins and foods like fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.
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In less than a decade, the number of people in the U.S. who identify as vegan jumped six-fold - from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017 according to GlobalData.
And while the eating pattern has been linked to health benefits like lower cholesterol, clearer skin, and a lower risk of heart disease, a lack of animal products has also been connected to a number of vitamin deficiencies, in particularly, vitamin B12 deficiency.
And now, a doctor is speaking out about just how catastrophic the consequences of such a deficiency can be since a certain subject of vegans on the internet have reportedly floated the myth that additional B12 is not necessary for vegans.
"There is a danger of young people going vegan, not having B12 and it could tip the balance to them getting a serious neuropathy," or nerve damage, Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, told the Guardian. "I'm concerned that many people think it is a myth."
In reality, vitamin B12 - commonly found in milk, beef, clams, tuna, and other animal products - is responsible for nervous system and blood cell health, meaning vitamin B12 is necessary for essential body functions like motor skills, bone health, mood control, and brain health.
A deficiency in B12 can lead to fatigue, depression, and lower bone density.
These effects can be especially detrimental to children who are on a vegan diet, who in some cases develop peripheral neuropathy, or irreversible nerve damage that can cause weakness, numbness, and pain throughout the body, as well as other motor problems.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to a higher risk of stroke
A recent study published in The BMJ in September found that the health benefits of going vegan may actually be linked to some of the more serious risks that come with a vitamin B12 deficiency.
The researchers from Oxford University surveyed the eating habits and health of 48,188 adults in the UK over the course of 18 years.
While the study authors supported earlier findings that a vegan diet is linked to lower cholesterol, the new findings also showed that because vegans' lack of animal products leads to lower levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D, they also have a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Carnvivores, meanwhile, were found to have a higher risk of heart disease.
There are ways for adults to get sufficient B12 without eating animal products
Consulting your doctor about over-the-counter B12 supplements is an important first step when going vegan, according to registered dietitian Lauren Manaker.
If you want to get additional sources of B12 aside from vitamins, foods like nutritional yeast, shitake mushrooms, and fortified cereals can all be good sources of supplemental B12.
Manaker recommends that vegans also get their levels of B12 checked regularly by a medical professional.
For children, however, the American Association of Pediatricians recommends forgoing a vegan diet completely and feeding kids all five primary food groups, including dairy, meat, eggs, and fish. This is due to the risk of nutrient deprivation at key stages of development.
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