German Nutrition Society advises vegans to supplement diet with vitamin B12

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The German Nutrition Society (DGE) has updated vitamin B12 reference values that recommend vegan diet followers take a supplement daily to compensate for the regimen’s nutritional deficiencies.

Guidelines issued by the non-profit organisation raise vitamin B12 (colbalamin) intake for adults to 4.0 micrograms (μg) per day – up from the previously recommended intake of 3.0μg per day.

The DGE, together with nutritional societies from Austria (ÖGE) and Switzerland (SGE) have also paid special attention to followers of the vegan diet stating they “must take a permanent vitamin B 12 preparation to avoid deficits”.

“Even vegetarians take in part too little vitamin B 12,”​ the DGE continued. “Especially with increased nutrient requirements, e.g. during pregnancy and lactation, vegetarians should pay attention to a sufficient intake of vitamin B12 and possibly also take vitamin B 12 supplements.

“Regardless of the intake, gastrointestinal disorders such as persistent gastritis, Crohn's disease and some medications could affect vitamin B12 intake.”

The DGE added that older people especially were at an increased risk for inadequate intake of the vitamin from the diet.

Infants and pregnant women

As well as adult and the elderly, the DGE also estimate an adequate intake of vitamin B12 to be 0.5μg per day for infants to 4.0μg per day for adolescents.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have an increased need with the estimate for adequate vitamin B 12 intake for pregnant women deemed to be 4.5μg per day and during breastfeeding 5.5μg per day.

In stating its reasons for revising intake levels, the DGE stated that after careful evaluation of the current data, the need for vitamin B12 could not be determined with “desirable accuracy”.

“Therefore, the revised reference levels for vitamin B12 intake are given as estimates for adequate intake. Previously, the reference values ​​were named as the recommended intake.

“The adult estimate was derived from studies in which adequate vitamin B12 intake was determined by serum total vitamin B12 and holo-TC status parameters as well as the MMA and homocysteine ​​functional parameters.

“The estimated values ​​are higher than the previously valid data for the recommended intake.”

DGE vegan nutrition position

The DGE’s comments reinforce its position regarding vegan nutrition set out in 2016. Here, the organisation stated that in a purely plant-based diet an adequate supply of some nutrients was “not possible or only with difficulty”.

“The most critical nutrient is vitamin B12,​” they said. “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.”

EFSA recommendations

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

Also for the cobalamin form of vitamin B12, the agency set an adequate intake (AI) of 4μg per day for adults with mean intakes for adults ranging from 4.2 and 8.6 μg/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 panel considered additional cobalamin intakes related to the accumulation of cobalamin in foetal tissues and transfer into breast milk.

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

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