Vitamin B12 – Everything You Need to Know
Many nutrients are needed for the proper functioning of the body, and Vitamin B12 is one of the most important ones. Among other things, it is used for producing red blood cells, metabolizing nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and regulating several processes taking place in the body.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be very dangerous for our health, so it is essential to know its symptoms and how it can be effectively supplemented. This article is especially recommended for vegans who often suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency.
What is the role of Vitamin B12 in our body?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an organic chemical compound containing a cobalt ion in its molecule. Naturally, it occurs only in animal products. An optimal Vitamin B12 level has a positive effect on the proper functioning of the whole body.
The circulatory system: Vitamin B12 actively participates in the production of red blood cells, thus preventing anemia.
The nervous system: Vitamin B12 is involved in the production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It also participates in the formation of nerve envelopes that protect and isolate nerve cells.
The digestive system: Vitamin B12 is essential for the synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids in cells. Together with Vitamin B6 and folic acid, it regulates homocysteine levels and protects against atherosclerosis. It also takes part in the transformation of folic acid to its biologically active form.
Mental health: The proper levels of Vitamin B12 in the body protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B12 naturally occurs only in animal products such as meat, fish, cheese, and eggs. Therefore, vegans must often supplement this vitamin.
Check also: Most Important Supplements for Vegans.
Signs and symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common, especially among children and the elderly. Initially, there are no symptoms because excess Vitamin B2 is deposited in the liver and muscles. They form a storehouse from which the body can draw as needed when the vitamin levels are too low. It is the same case with other minerals and vitamins.
Unfortunately, this accumulation is not enough for a lifetime, and the problem usually appears after a few years (the length of time may differ from person to person).
Avitaminosis has an adverse effect on organ function and disrupts their functioning. It is the same with Vitamin B12. Early symptoms of deficiency of this vitamin are as follows:
– general weakness and fatigue,
– frequent infections,
– lack of appetite and digestive disorders,
– limb numbness,
– problems with memory,
– menstrual disorders.
Although the deficiency of this vitamin does not appear to cause drastic symptoms, a shortage of this vitamin may cause the following problems in the long term:
- Abnormal functioning of the circulatory system, including megaloblastic and pernicious anemia and atherosclerotic plaque formation leading to a heart attack. Chronic deficiency may also cause macrocytic anemia.
- Low levels of cobalamin result in impaired synthesis of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which can lead to reduced cell communication capacity in the central nervous system. Symptoms include low mood, lower energy, or sleep problems. A deficit of dopamine may also cause the development of Parkinson’s disease.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency may also lead to disorders such as uncertain gait, hand and foot numbness, and vision problems.
- Hyperhomocysteinemia, which is a factor in atherosclerotic and thrombotic changes, degenerative changes of the gastric mucosa, and impaired absorption of nutrients in the digestive system
- Disorders of consciousness and delusional syndromes resembling schizophrenia and depression
Vitamin B12 deficiencies most often affect the elderly because its absorption decreases with age. People suffering from diseases of the digestive system and hypothyroidism, vegetarians, vegans, and people who drink alcohol may also suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency.
However, all vegans may not necessarily suffer from anemia because a plant diet provides large amounts of folic acid, which can replace B12 and cause the proper development of red blood cells. The problem lies in the fact that folic acid will not protect against neurological disorders.
It should also be remembered that chronic cobalamin deficiency is very dangerous for fetal and child development. Lack of this vitamin during such intensive growth and development periods can cause irreversible mental retardation. It is extremely important that this vitamin is not lacking in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is produced mainly by bacteria living in the digestive system of animals. That is why it mostly occurs in foods of animal origin, such as meat, organ meats, fish, eggs, and milk products. Yeast is another source of Vitamin B12.
For vegans, supplementation is the only reliable source of this vitamin because it is impossible to meet the demand only with diet.
Intestinal bacteria in the human body produce Vitamin B12. However, it is not used for the body’s needs because the proper absorption of this vitamin takes place only in the small intestine.
How to supplement Vitamin B12?
The supplement can be taken once daily or once weekly. However, remember to not exceed the recommended dose. It turns out that if we supplement more than the required amount, it will affect its absorption negatively. If we eat a very large dose of the supplement, only 1% will be absorbed. If we take this vitamin as recommended, up to 50% can be absorbed.
For daily supplementation, choose a supplement that contains 10-100 micrograms of this vitamin. If you decide to supplement it once a week, the dosage should be 2000 micrograms.