Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal-based foods and is therefore a nutrient of potential concern for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Vegans, and anyone who significantly limits intake of animal-based foods, require vitamin B12-fortified foods or supplements.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has several stages and may be present even if a person does not have anaemia. Anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet should have their vitamin B12 status regularly assessed to identify a potential problem.
A useful process for assessing vitamin B12 status in clinical practice is the combination of taking a diet history, testing serum vitamin B12 level and testing homocysteine, holotranscobalamin II or methylmalonic acid serum levels.
Pregnant and lactating vegan or vegetarian women should ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B12 to provide for their developing baby.
In people who can absorb vitamin B12, small amounts (in line with the recommended dietary intake) and frequent (daily) doses appear to be more effective than infrequent large doses, including intramuscular injections.
Fortification of a wider range of foods products with vitamin B12, particularly foods commonly consumed by vegetarians, is likely to be beneficial, and the feasibility of this should be explored by relevant food authorities.
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