Vegetarian and Feeling Down? You Might Be Low on Vitamin B12

Vegetarian and Feeling Down? You Might Be Low on Vitamin B12

Switching to a plant-based diet can be a great decision for your health. But it can also carry a serious risk: vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is important for producing red blood cells and DNA, as well as supporting a healthy nervous system1. It's typically found in animal products, such as fish, meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, and is much harder to come by on a plant-based diet.

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the guts of animals. Although humans also produce B12 in the colon, we can't absorb it from there, and must typically get it from other animals. The food that primates, indigenous societies, and prehistoric populations ate had enough bacteria on the surface to provide the vitamin B12 they needed. Today, we typically clean and cook our foods, thereby reducing the vitamin B12 content in the plants we eat.

This is why many vegans and vegetarians are at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency. In one study, vitamin B12 deficiency affected 86 percent of all vegans2. Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a vital role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Studies suggest that having lower levels of vitamin B12 and other B vitamins may actually be linked with mood imbalances.

  • A 2007 study of 14,247 young women found that 30 percent of vegetarians and semi-vegetarians had struggled with low moods in the previous 12 months, compared to 20 percent of non-vegetarian women3.
  • Researchers examined mental health issues among a representative sample of 4,116 Germans including vegetarians, predominantly vegetarians, and non-vegetarians. The subjects were matched on demographic and socioeconomic variables. More vegetarians than meat eaters suffered from low moods in the previous month, the previous year, and over their lifetimes4.
  • In 2014, researchers studied individuals who varied in their diets: 330 vegetarians, 330 people who consumed a lot of meat, 330 omnivores who ate less meat, and 330 people who consumed a little meat but mostly ate fruits and veggies. The subjects were matched for sex, age, and socio-economic status. The vegetarians were about two times as likely as the other groups to suffer from a mood imbalances5.
  • A study of 140 women found that the odds of low moods were two times greater in women consuming less than the recommended intake of meat per week. (Researchers also discovered that women eating more than the recommended amount were also likely to struggle with mental well-being6.)

If you're vegetarian or vegan, it may be a good idea to take a Vegan B12 supplement or a B complex supplement to make sure you stay nutritionally balanced. Here are the Top 5 Recommended Supplements for Vegans.