As you might imagine, I get into a lot of discussions about vitamin B12 on facebook and twitter, and also via email. Vegans have many good questions about this nutrient. And sometimes some not-so-good opinions about it.
This past year I found myself chatting with the editor of a vegan publication who insisted that my perspective on B12 supplements was outdated. She was convinced that supplements were unnecessary and knew this because of what she had learned on a holistic health cruise.
Okay, well I’ve never been on a holistic health cruise. And I have no doubt that some are better than others. It’s just that, when it comes to vacations, I lean more toward Yellowstone National Park or maybe poking around antique stores along the Maine coast. Whether or not those are the better choices, at least they aren’t sources of dangerous nutrition misinformation. And the idea that vegans don’t need to supplement with vitamin B12 is just that.
I don’t claim to know everything in the world about optimal nutrition for vegans. Nobody does. But based on the available evidence, I do know that—right now—the only responsible advice is for vegans to supplement with this nutrient. Current recommendations are for vegans to supplement with cyanocobalamin in one of the following three ways:
2.5 mcg two times per day
25-100 mcg daily
1,000 mcg two times per week
When I share this information on social media and elsewhere, people often want to know what brand of supplement I take and what brands I suggest. I’m currently taking a Safeway brand of vitamin B12 providing 1,000 mcg. I take it twice per week. It’s cheap and readily available. But when I started to dig around on the internet to find a few other brands to recommend, it turned out to be much more difficult than I expected.
I was looking for supplements that are vegan (which means no animal-derived fillers; the B12 itself is always vegan) and that provided cyanocobalamin. I also wanted one that doesn’t provide other nutrients.
Of the vegan supplements I found, most contained methylcobalamin, not cyano. And a few that contained cyanocobalamin provided a hefty dose of folic acid which may or may not be a problem.
Although there is some evidence that folic acid supplements could raise risk for cancer, the studies on this are conflicting. Still, it makes sense for vegans to err on the side of caution where these supplements are concerned. Our diets can provide plenty of folate (the natural form of the vitamin) and so we shouldn’t need to supplement with it. (The exceptions are pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant; they should take folic acid supplements.)
Many of the cyanocobalamin supplements seemed to be vegan, but it wasn’t always entirely clear that this was so. Almost all included stearate or magnesium stearate, ingredients that may or may not be vegan. Some brands, like mine from Safeway, specify “vegetable magnesium stearate,” but most simply don’t say.
Many readers of this blog are not concerned about these minute filler ingredients in which case any of the supplements below should be fine. But I’m providing the information about these ingredients for those who prefer to know.
With all of that in mind, here is a list of vitamin B12 supplements that provide cyanocobalamin with no additional nutrients.
These three brands appear to be vegan:
These brands contain either stearate or magnesium stearate of undisclosed origin:
If you know of other supplements to add to these lists, please share them below in the comments.