Vitamin B12 is a little-known vitamin needed in the body in small amounts. However, its lack might lead to serious health problems and is the „weak spot“ of most vegetarians or vegans, and often even of carnivores. See its essential importance to the body and how to get it:
Vitamin B12 is water-soluble vitamin and acts in very small doses. It is the only water-soluble vitamin that accumulates in the body. Stocks can last for three to five years. This is why a diet change won’T have immediate effect on it, but it can lead to long-term deficits.
Why is B12 important to be present in food?
The average non-vegetarian accumulates between 2,000 and 3,000 picograms (pg) of vitamin B12 and loses about 3 pg per day. About 60% of the total B12 amount in the body is stored in the liver and about 30% in the muscles. The body has a specific circulation schema between the digestive system and the liver. By bile, we release 1.4 pg B12 per day in the small intestine, and if the person is healthy, he re-digests about 0.7 pg. Studies show that if people have low B12 intakes, absorption increases to get more B12 in the body. There is, however, a most common possibility of slow loss before developing the full B12 deficiency symptoms.
What is the function of B12?
- As a methylcobalamin B12 is used by the enzyme methionine. When this enzyme does not work, the amount of amino acid homocysteine in the body increases. Studies have linked this condition to an increased risk of heart disease and worsening of the arteries and nerves.
- Vitamin B12 and B9 (folic acid) are needed to create the DNA essential for production of new red blood cells.
- Maintains healthy nervous system.
- It fills with energy, assists concentration, memory and balance.
What are the symptoms of B12 deficiency?
The symptoms of B12 deficiency can vary and this is especially important for vegans and other plant based diets. The first symptom is actually low energy. This may be the reason why some people do not feel well with this type of diet beside the fact that they may not provide the right combination of proteins / carbohydrates / fats suitable for their type of physique. There are also specific neurological symptoms associated with degeneration of the nervous system affecting the peripheral nerves and the spinal cord. Some of the typical neurological sensations include depression, stiffness and numbness of the hands and feet, nervousness, paranoia, hyperactive reflexes, memory impairment and behavioral changes. When there is a B12 deficiency, a person may also experience diarrhea, fever, frequent upper respiratory tract infections, impotence, infertility, inflammation of the tongue, enlarged mucous membranes of the mouth, vagina and stomach, macrocytic anemia, low thrombocytes, increased bleeding and low white blood cells level.
What are the reasons for a B12 deficiency?
Some of the causes for vitamin B12 deficiency are low B12 dietary intake and/or poor resorption, usually due to reduced internal factor and/or gastric acid deficiency.
Sequential researches over the last decade has shown that restrictive plant-based diets and/or vegans of all ages and genders are more likely to suffer from B12 deficiency. This does not mean that everyone gets a B12 deficit. This deficiency is particularly risky by newborns, especially babies of vegan breastfeeding mothers, who do not take B12 as a supplement. In contrast to an average of 2,000-3,000 pg B12 accumulated in adults, the newborns of mothers with a normal B12 level show values of about 25 pg. Studies have shown that breast milk in the first week of life contains large amounts of B12. This means that the amount of B12 accumulated in babies at birth is usually enough for them for the first few weeks of life. Then they have to get it from mother’s milk or from other sources. If a vegan mother already has a B12 deficiency during pregnancy, the baby may be born with very low levels of B12 and may develop clinical signs of deficiency even at two weeks of age. General studies show that there may be a B12 deficiency in babies even by non-vegetarians and that perhaps all breastfeeding mothers should think about taking B12 as a supplement for themselves and their baby during breastfeeding. This lack of B12 in maternal nutrition during pregnancy is associated with a lack of production of myelin (the envelope of the nerves). This illness needs between one and twelve months to develop and is expressed in an inability for a proper development of the child and a slow progress in growth. The baby is often lethargic, losing his ability to use his muscles adequately and even his sensory adjustment decreases.
How to get vitamin B12?
In fact, the healthy level of B12 in the serum is ≥450 pg/ml or ≥330 pmol/l. Studies show that people who eat mainly raw food, but also take some B12 as a supplement through brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast or other B12 supplements, only about 15% of them had less than 200 pg/ml, none of them had less than 160 pg/ml. The supplement was 5 pg B12 of 1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast.
Young children and teenagers who have been breastfed for at least 6 months and who have been given B12 supplements are growing normally. Adults who were vegetarians without B12 supplements for more than 6 years usually have a lower B12 than adult non-vegetarians, but not always. Vegans consuming cooked food have a higher B12 deficiency than raw vegan eaters. For vegetarians and vegans, the percentage below 200 pg is also high – about 54%.
There is one exception to this lack of food containing B12 and it is that we produce B12 from bacteria in the colon, but since this B12 is produced in an area below the place where B12 is reabsorbed, we can not actually digest it . Published studies show that if people eat an extract of their stool, they will not develop a B12 deficiency. Of course, there are much more aesthetic and delicious ways to get our B12 as a supplement or ensuring B12-rich meal. B12 supplements/food are the Bionia’s Brewer’s yeast and Nutritional yeast flakes, with their content of bioavailable vitamin B12 and folic acid in a combination with natural minerals and vitamins for more effective absorption by the body.
There are many offers for vegan foods that contain active B12 but very few actually raise B12 or prevent it from losing it. Amazake (fermented Japanese rice drink), yeast bread, shiitake mushroom, tofu and soy paste, barley miso, miso, nato miso, rice miso, soy sauce shoyu , soy sauce tamaris, plum vinegars and many nuts, seeds and cereals – none of these foods contain elements and even some barely recognizable B12 analogue. The most natural way to get B12 is from foods like shellfish, seafood or liver, but they are not vegan sources of course.
It is prudent to take supplements with human-active B12 (methylcobalamin). There are vegan B12 supplements that allow us not to disturb our vegan philosophy and to still be naturally healthy.
Authors: Gabriel Kazans, Dr. G. Gaidurkov and Bionia.
The material is not meant to advertise a specific product!