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Vegans are advised to supplement daily with vitamin B12

3 min read

The German Nutrition Society (DGE) has recently updated it's reference values for vitamin B12 and recommends those following a vegan diet take a daily supplement to compensate for nutritional deficiencies.

The DGE, along with additional nutritional societies from Austria and Switzerland (OGE and SGE respectively) have looked especially closely at those following a vegan diet, stating that they:

"must take a permanent vitamin B12 preparation to avoid deficits."

"Even vegetarians take in part too little B12. Especially with increased nutrient requirements, e.g. during pregnancy and lactation, vegetarians should pay attention to a sufficient intake of vitamin B12 and possibly take vitamin B12 supplements."

The DGE went on to say that older people in particular were at an increased risk for inadequate dietary intake of the vitamin.

Children and pregnant women

The DGE also stated that an estimate of 0.5µg per day of vitamin B12 is adequate for children and 4µg for teenagers.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more vitamin B12 so the estimate for adequate intake for this group was deemed to be 4.5µg per day during pregnancy and 5.5µg per day during breastfeeding.

The reason for revising intake levels set by the DGE was attributed to evaluation of the data on which current recommendations are based on and it concluded that the need for vitamin B12 could not be determined with desirable accuracy.

The new reference levels for vitamin B12 are given as estimates for adequate intake rather than being referenced as recommended intake.

Vegan nutrition

The latest statement issued by the DGE support it's position regarding vegan nutrition that was set out a few years ago in 2016. The organisation then stated that in a purely plant-based diet an adequate supply of some nutrients was not possible or only possible with much difficulty. They said:

The most critical nutrient is vitamin B12. The potentially critical nutrients in vegan diets include protein or essential amino acids and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and other vitamins (riboflavin, vitamin D) and minerals (calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium).

For pregnant, breastfeeding, infants, children and adolescents, a vegan diet is not recommended by the DGE.

Anyone who still wants to eat vegan, should take an adequate supply of vitamin B12 and other critical nutrients and if necessary use fortified foods and nutrient preparations.

For this purpose, advice should be provided by a qualified nutrition specialist and the supply of critical nutrients should be checked regularly by a doctor.

Guidelines similar to those set by the EFSA

The rules issued by The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) are similar to those recommendations set by the DGE, which represents both the interests of German and international nutritional organisations.

For the cobalamin form of vitamin B12, the EFSA set an adequate intake of 4µg per day for adults with mean intakes for adults ranging from 4.2 and 8.6µg/day across EU countries.

For infants aged 7-11 months this was 1.5µg/day and children aged 15-17 years 4µg/day.

For pregnant and lactating women, the EFSA considered additional cobalamin intakes due to the accumulation of cobalamin in foetal tissues and transfer into breast milk.

Intakes of 4.5 and 5 µg/day for pregnant and lactating women were proposed, respectively.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.