The Top 3 Supplements for Vegans
Is Being Vegan Healthy?
The answer to that is more complicated than you might think, and the short answer is: it can be. First off, I want to make it perfectly clear that being healthy is more about what we do eat and less about what you don’t eat although both can be important.
There are some things that are great to cut out of your diet because they are toxic, but if you are not including a lot of high-quality nutrients then your efforts will be very lackluster.
Junk Food is Unhealthy Vegan or Otherwise
There are some crucial nutrients for our nervous system and brains that could be missing on a vegan diet if we are not careful. A whole foods, plant-based diet can be very healthy if done well as opposed to what I call “junk food vegans”.
These are the vegans that will drink Coca-Cola and eat Oreos simply because they don’t contain animal products. That style of eating is definitely not a complete or healthy diet.
In this article, I am going to cover what the crucial nutrients that many vegans lack, what are these nutrients good for, and how can we find them in vegan sources.
Most french fries are vegan…but that doesn’t mean they are healthy.
A Little Bit of My Story
Before we get started, I just want everyone to know that I was a vegetarian for 5 years, and a vegan for 2 years. I have also done raw vegan (80/10/10), paleo, ketogenic, primalgenic, and so much more.
Veganism has some great perks IF you do it correctly. If you don’t know already, it is not that difficult to get vegan proteins especially if you supplement vegan protein powders.
Vegan Protein Sources
People would always ask me where I got my protein. My answer is rice, beans, mushrooms, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other grains. I also took brown rice protein, pea protein, hemp protein, and other protein blends.
The reason I stopped being vegan is because the high quantity of phytic acid from these protein sources was messing with my digestion. If veganism is truly what works best for you, then more power to you.
What is Autophagy?
Also on a vegan diet, we more easily enter a state called “autophagy” which translated literally from Greek means “self-eating”. Autophagy is very important for bodily maintenance, and basically what happens is that our body recycles defective portions of our cells.
This reduces the need for excess dietary protein, and it lowers inflammation. If you are not a vegan, then you can achieve autophagy through fasting. What are the key missing nutrients in a vegan diet if protein is not the problem?
They are vitamin B12, EPA/DHA omega 3’s, and collagen.
What is Vitamin B12 and Why is it so Important?
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is crucial for many processes in our body, not the least of which is to oxygenate the hemoglobin in our blood.
If we do not get enough, then we get a condition very similar to anemia called pernicious anemia (also called Addison’s anemia).
The symptoms of pernicious anemia include feeling fatigued and lightheaded, stomach inflammation, shortness of breath, and pins and needles sensations most often in your extremities.
Now take note that even if you eat animal products with vitamin B12, you may not be absorbing the vitamin B12 you need to be healthy because of intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut syndrome) or some other underlying health issue.
Vitamin B12 and The Brain
Vitamin B12 also plays a crucial role in our methylation pathways which are essential for detoxification, metabolism, and maintaining healthy neurotransmitter balance.
Methylated vitamin B12 can be used to activate the Cytochrome P450 enzymes or CYPs. These are enzymes in our liver that help us remove drugs and toxins from our system as well as to metabolize vitamin A and vitamin D3.
The Methylation Pathway
Vitamin B12 is essential in the creation of S-adenosyl-methionine (also called SAM or SAMe) which is known as “the universal methylator”. SAM is responsible for the proper metabolism of our neurotransmitters that create feelings of happiness within us like serotonin, and dopamine.
SAM also helps regulate our sleep cycle because of the effect it has on melatonin. Vitamin B12, especially methylcobalamin, has been shown to have beneficial effects on cognitive abilities, and on neurological pain.
I personally enjoy methylcobalamin the best because it donates its extra methyl ion to lower homocysteine levels which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and because the methyl ion allows it to pass easily through the fatty membrane on our neurons and immune cells.
What Kind of B12 is Best and Why?
There is a lot of great research out there on the neurological benefits of methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the most common form and I do NOT recommend taking it.
Not only does most of it pass through your body without being absorbed, but it can also cause toxic effects because cyanide is produced as a by-product when your body converts it into a form that can be utilized.
Other Good Forms of Supplemental Vitamin B12
It is rare that it causes acute toxicity, but it can happen. Other good forms are adenosylcobalamin which is a form that our body does not need to convert so it is ready for immediate use.
Hydroxocobalamin is a form that stores in your body to be converted for later use unlike most water-soluble vitamins like B12. The last two are harder to find and more expensive, but you may have a better time with them if you have methylation issues (i.e. a defective MTHFR gene).
What is the Best Way to Take B12?
I recommend a good sublingual methylcobalamin. It is cost effective, vegan, and very bioavailable. Eating it orally is a very poor way to get more B12 into your bloodstream especially if you have intestinal permeability. The best ways are under the tongue, transdermal patch, or injection.
There is no vegan food that has an adequate source of B12. It is found in trace amounts in certain algae, but most of those are corrinoids that are B12 analogs that are chemically similar to B12, but with none of the positive biological effects.
There Are No Vegan Foods With Adequate Levels of B12
These compounds can actually interfere with B12 metabolism. Read a Full Article About Vegan B12 in Foods. There are no vegan foods that are naturally rich in B12 from a vegan website.
Below is a great vegan brand that is cost-effective, and while still being potent dosage size.
What’s the Deal with Omega-3’s?
We have written several articles on Omega-3’s and even DHA specifically because they are so important especially since the majority of American are deficient in them. There are two types of essential fatty acids (EFA’s), and these are linoleic acid (LA; an omega-6) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA; an omega-3).
Most people in the western world eat too much omega 6 mainly because of fried food, but these oils like vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and others find a way to sneak in elsewhere in our diet at times. Vegan sources for ALA include olive oil, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and more.
So what’s the problem? The major problem is that ALA does not easily convert into longer-chain Omega-3s like EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are essential for brain health and cardiovascular health, and can even help with diseases like obesity and metabolic syndrome. Please read our other articles on these supernutrients (above) but for now, let’s talk about the conversion process.
Why EPA and DHA are Different from ALA
EPA and DHA are typically only found in eggs and fatty fish like tuna or salmon. These are obviously not vegan because they are not plants. EPA and DHA are considered conditionally essential because our body can (supposedly) convert ALA in these longer-chain fats.
A study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1994 found that young, healthy men on average could only convert 4% of ALA into DHA. However, later studies showed that less than 0.1% of the ALA would fully convert into DHA!
The Mystery of Conversion
What’s more is that it is very difficult to tell who will have more difficulty converting omega-3’s. One factor in this is our dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Most experts recommend eating somewhere between a 1:1 ratio and a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
However, other studies showed that women were pretty good at converting ALA (9% converted into DHA) while the men in the study showed no discernible rise in DHA! This means that hormones and gender may play a role in this process as well.
We Just Can’t Tell…
The point is that it is hard to know if you will be one of the unlucky ones who cannot convert these fats efficiently. If your liver is trying to do a million other things like remove toxins or convert beta-carotene into active vitamin A and more, then you may be at risk for low conversion rates.
Read a Full Article on Omega-3 Conversion with the cited scientific studies here. For our favorite vegan source of EPA and DHA (cold-pressed from algae) click the picture below.
Collagen’s Long History
Collagen is a type of protein made of specific amino acids. Some doctors and researchers say that it is the glue that holds us together. In fact, the Greek root words for “collagen” means “glue maker”. For thousands of years, people have been making soups and broths using the bones of animals.
In Chinese medicine, bone soup is considering “tonifying” which means that it builds strength. Indigenous tribes would use every part of the animal in their recipes including the boiled bones, but modern man seems to have lost this ancient art.
Collagen and Gelatin are NOT Vegan
This most common source of collagen and gelatin is from cow bones which is obviously not vegan or even vegetarian. This was the top source of glue until the advent of wheat paste. That’s right! Gluten is what makes wheat paste glue (like Elmer’s glue) sticky.
During this switch, we lost touch with this ancient food source and its benefits. There was a push for gelatin-based products like Jello, but they were not really a staple of our diet anymore.
What Does Collagen Do?
Gelatin is simply a cooked down version of collagen where the collagen has been separated into its constituent amino acids. So what does collagen do? Most people know collagen and elastin for their effects on our skin.
These proteins keep our skin looking youthful, smooth, and wrinkle-free. Did you know that these same proteins that make us look healthy on the outside also keep us healthy inside?
Collagen and elastin are for maintaining the structure of our blood vessels, the integrity of our intestinal lining, and the smooth cartilage in our joints.
Modern Problems, Ancient Solutions
Here is another piece of this puzzle: we used to eat all parts of animals including making broth with their bones, and now we just eat the meat. We overeat the meat which can cause intestinal issues and an overabundance of ammonia in our system, and we do not eat enough collagen and gelatin which would help balance out this equation.
We also eat a lot of fructose and glucose which can stick to collagen and elastin and render them useless! This is called glycation, and the AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End-products) are one of the biggest contributing factors for wrinkly or discolored skin, and even the hardening of our veins and arteries (called atherogenesis).
Also note that fructose is 7-10 times more likely to glycate than glucose, and this is only one great reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup. All of this adds up to us having a lot of inflammation, joint pain, digestive issues, wrinkling skin, and hardening arteries.
The Vegan Solution
So what is the vegan option to support collagen synthesis? Many people call it “living silica” (aka monomethylsilanetriol) because most silica is not able to be absorbed into our bodies, and this form is bioavailable.
The studies done on it are mainly done on women in menopause because their levels of bone density, collagen levels, and silica levels decrease as they age. Living silica was able to increase their levels of silica in their bodies.
Collagen and Silica
The silica supports collagen synthesis which then creates a collagen matrix that helps guide minerals into the right place in our bones. For bone health, there is more to the equation than just silica, but if your goal is to build collagen to heal your intestines or joints, then living silica is a great option for you to take!
I personally was able to heal my intestinal permeability with living silica. It had gotten to the point that it was causing skin issues, joint issues, and even auto-immune issues.
By removing the triggers that were causing my intestinal permeability, and by adding in the nutrients to heal my intestinal lining, I was able to fully reverse these symptoms. The silica supplement below is one of my favorites because it is affordable, concentrated, and easy to add to drinks and smoothies.