Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and micro-organisms. Meat and milk are full of bacteria because they are decaying substances and consequently they are foods high in B12. Due to the nature of the dietary sources of B12, vegans and vegetarians are normally considered to be at a higher risk of deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the stomach by a protein called intrinsic factor - it is needed to absorb Vitamin B12 from food.
What does Vitamin B12 do in the body?
Vitamin B12 is a member of the water soluble B Vitamin family. It works in synergy with other B Vitamins to turn food into energy.
Vitamin B12 is essential to form healthy
- Red blood cells supply
oxygen to the body and their formation is very important for well being.
- White cells fight against infections.
It is required for the manufacture
of myelin, a protective fatty layer that coats nerve cells and keeps electrical
impulses moving through the body. If there is not enough B12 then our mental function is
short-circuited. and consequently our brain chemistry balance is upset.
B12 works with Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) and Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
and it works with other B vitamins to protect the heart by removing
homocysteine from blood. A high level of homocysteine makes a person more prone to vascular inflammation, which in turn may lead to coronary artery disease.
What can cause a deficiency?
Meat and milk are high in protein which is primarily digested in the stomach. This forces the stomach to produce more acid in order to digest them. This high acid secretion affects the lining of the stomach which inhibits absorption of Vitamin B12.
Those that have become Vitamin B12 deficient may have stomach disorders which have resulted in a diminished ability to absorb Vitamin B12 and therefore may be required to take injections.
Strict vegans who take no animal or dairy produce may be able to absorb Vitamin B12 but are unlikely to get enough of it on a plant-based diet therefore are considered to be at a high risk of deficiency.
Modern lives are unnaturally hygienic compared to those of our ancestors. Vast amounts of micro organisms which are naturally available in our food are destroyed or removed due to to factors such as:
- Irradiation of fruits and vegetables (which makes them last longer)
- Pesticides used in farming to prevent crop damage
- Water sanitisation e.g by chlorine
- Washing fruits and vegetables well
- Preservatives used in processed and packaged food
- High hygiene levels in our lifestyles i.e. washing our hands with antibacterial soaps
- Some toothpastes and mouthwashes can destroy oral bacteria
- Alcohol consumption
- Microwaving food
Other causes of Vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Gastric disorders
- Thinning of the stomach lining
- Stomach ulcers
- Surgery to remove part of the stomach or small intestine
- Digestive illnesses such as Crohn's disease, Colitis or Coeliac disease
- A parasite.
What are the symptoms of deficiency?
Due to the wide range of functions that Vitamin B12 is required for in the body, there are a huge range of symptoms associated with deficiency, however those that commonly occur are:
- Weakness, tiredness or fatigue
- Memory loss
- Loss of weight
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision problems
- Yellowing of the skin
- Paranoia, depression, psychosis or symptoms of dementia
- Respiratory symptoms
- Hives and other symptoms of allergies
A long-term deficiency can lead to heart attacks or stroke and cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.
In order to diagnose a Vitamin B12 deficiency your doctor can perform one of a number of tests. Once diagnosed, Vitamin B12 deficiency can usually be treated successfully with B12 injections or B12 tablets.
What foods can you get B12 from?
The major food sources of B12 are meat, eggs and dairy products. In some countries such as the USA foods are often fortified with B12 such as soya milk and other ready-made foods.
Are Vitamin B12 supplements safe?
To date there is no known toxicity level for Vitamin B12 - too much will not kill, too little can be detrimental to your health.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.