11 Jan 2015

Vegans Need to Supplement... What's the Big Deal?


Supplementation is a particularly touchy topic within the vegan community. The subject of B12 supplementation is especially controversial among vegans and non-vegans alike - many see it as 'unnatural' and therefore wrong and unhealthy. It may be true that B12 supplementation is 'unnatural' in one sense of the term, but it's an 'unnatural' necessity. Vegans need B12 - all humans do - and unfortunately, there are very few plant-based 'natural' sources of the vitamin remaining in our environment.

B12 is an imperative vitamin responsible for maintaining the health of the brain and nervous system. Plants and animals are both incapable of producing this essential vitamin - instead, it is derived from bacteria found in soil and animal intestines. Root vegetables pulled from bacteria-infused soil will contain remnants of the B12 vitamin, as well as the water from some unsanitised lakes and rivers. Some believe this is how the earliest humans sourced their vitamin B12, but we don't know for sure. The human intestinal tract is also known to contain some B12-producing bacteria. In general, it is unknown whether or not these B12 sources are sufficient, so most people don't take the risk.

While vegans can easily obtain all other vitamins from plant-based sources (or from the sun, as is the case with Vitamin D), B12 is slightly different. Most people source their B12 from bacteria found in meat, dairy and eggs, but for vegans, this obviously isn't an option. Fortunately, there is an quick, easy, cruelty-free way to obtain Vitamin B12 - it's called supplementation.

"B12 is an imperative vitamin responsible for maintaining the health of the brain and nervous system. Plants and animals are both incapable of producing this essential vitamin - instead, it is derived from bacteria found in soil and animal intestines."

There are two main ways for vegans to obtain B12 - through sub-lingual (under the tongue) tablets or through regular injections. B12 is also available in many fortified foods (such as mock meats, Vegemite and nutritional yeast), but there's much debate over whether this type of supplementation is adequate. Personally, sub-lingual supplementation is best for me. It's quick, simple, affordable, it doesn't involve scary needles, and most importantly - it works. I've never had any problems with my B12 levels, and no animals have had to suffer in the production of the vitamin.

Some people believe that supplementation via injection is much more effective, but I see it as a matter of personal preference. If a monthly injection is more appealing to you than a daily or weekly sub-lingual tablet, go for it. In my experience, I've heard of both options working equally well.

Despite what some non-vegans claim, the necessity for B12 supplementation isn't restricted to the vegan community. Due to the lack of naturally occurring B12 reserves in artificially bred ruminants, it is common for farm animals such as sheep and cattle to be injected with B12 supplements. You can read more about this here. Non-ruminant animals, such as horses and rabbits, are believed to also require some level of B12 supplementation or fortification. So, it's not just vegans who consume an 'unnatural' source of B12 - people who eat sheep and cattle likely do as well, and I've never heard them kick up such a fuss about it!

If we wanted to source our B12 in the most natural way, we could take the non-human primate route and try eating faeces and soil - but these options aren't very appealing, are they?

Since B12 does not come directly from animal sources, it can easily be produced and distributed without harming any animals. If you source your B12 from animal products, however, you will be contributing to harm. So, you have the choice of being healthy and contributing to harm, or being healthy and not contributing to harm. The latter is certainly the most appealing option for me! While B12 can be found in eggs and dairy products, it's still best to avoid these sources because their production contributes towards suffering and exploitation.

"If you source your B12 from animal products, you will be contributing to harm. So, you have the choice of being healthy and contributing to harm, or being healthy and not contributing to harm. The latter is certainly the most appealing option for me!"

Non-vegans often use this necessity for B12 supplementation as an argument against veganism, but this opinion simply doesn't cut it for me. They use it as 'proof' that you can't obtain every vitamin you need from a vegan diet, but this isn't true at all. Bacteria isn't an animal product, so you can indeed obtain all the vitamins you need from a vegan, animal product-free, cruelty-free diet. If you think about it, B12 supplements are almost like magical tablets you can take to stop some innocent animals from suffering. Doesn't that sound awesome? Why wouldn't you try it?

While supplementation may seem 'unnatural' to some, we must remember that veganism isn't about being 'natural' - it's about doing the least amount of harm as possible to animals and the environment. Since B12 supplementation isn't unhealthy and doesn't do any damage to the human body, it's really nothing to fret over. Think of it as a positive thing. It's quick, easy and doesn't cause any harm - so what's the big deal? Take a little tablet once a day or once a week, be healthy and love animals. In my opinion at least, that's the very best way to live.