Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble nutrient that works in combination with Vitamins B9 and B6. It is one of the eight B vitamins essential for the synthesis of DNA and amino acid metabolism.
Vitamin B12 is primarily obtained from animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. It is unavailable in plant form, and owing to its complicated structure; it can only be produced industrially.
Interestingly, the human body can store this vitamin for up to four years, and any unwanted excess is excreted via urine. The body absorbs vitamin B12 with the help of a glycoprotein secreted by the gastric mucosa's parietal cells called the intrinsic factor.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious health complications in the long run. Doctors recommend a daily intake of 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 per day to promote the body's healthy functioning. Surveys have confirmed that almost 47% of the Indian population suffers from a Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Let us understand the importance of vitamin B12 - and how vegans and vegetarians can meet their daily requirement of this nutrient.
Why Our Body Needs Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one of the most critical and essential compounds required for our body's proper maintenance and functioning. It carries out essential functions like:
- Reduces the risk of dementia or brain atrophy by preventing the loss of neurons.
- Improves the flow of oxygen inside the brain, contributing to better cognitive function.
- Increases the production of serotonin, thereby reducing the risk of depression
- Vitamin B12 prevents the risk of developing megaloblastic anaemia, which causes extreme pain and weakness in the body.
- Vitamin B12 helps lower the homocysteine levels, which has been linked to a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and mental afflictions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or dementia.
- Consumption of Vitamin B12 has been linked to an increased bone density and the prevention of osteoporosis.
- Helps in the formation of red blood cells and the synthesis of DNA.
- Studies have linked increased consumption of Vitamin B12 to a lower risk of macular degeneration, a condition where the eye's central vision is affected.
Sources Of Vitamin B12
As mentioned above, Vitamin B12 is primarily obtained from animal products such as meat and eggs, meaning that there are very few plant-based sources of obtaining Vitamin B12. This has become a growing concern among those who follow vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, as they are more likely to develop a vitamin deficiency.
Following are some vegan sources of Vitamin B12 :
- Fortified Plant Milk: A single serving of fortified plant milk, such as almond or soy milk, contains up to 3 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of potassium and zinc. The consumption of fortified plant milk is essential for boosting nutritional intake and the development of bones.
- Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is a rich source of Vitamin B12, potassium, zinc, pyridoxine and riboflavin. A tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains about 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12. The consumption of nutritional yeast is beneficial for tissue repair and the absorption of nutrients.
- Mushrooms: A single serving of mushroom contains about 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of Vitamin D, zinc and selenium. The consumption of mushrooms is highly beneficial for lowering blood pressure and has been linked to a reduced risk of developing pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
- Algae/Seaweed: A single serving of algae or seaweed was found to contain 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a good source of Iodine and Tyrosine. The consumption of algae has been linked to an increased thyroid function, improved gut health and a reduced risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes.
- Tempeh: A single serving of tempeh contains 1.2 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of iron, manganese and potassium. Studies have linked tempeh consumption to reduced levels of oxidative stress, lowered cholesterol levels and healthy bone development.
- Fortified Tofu: A single serving of fortified tofu consists of 3.3 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also an excellent source of iron, phosphorus and calcium. Research has shown that tofu consumption can potentially reduce the risk of developing cancer and aid menopausal symptoms.
- Fortified Fruit juice: A single serving of fortified fruit juice packs 2.5 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of Vitamin C, Vitamin D and potassium. The consumption of fortified fruit juice helps in the prevention of osteomalacia and helps boost the immunity system.
Given below are some vegetarian sources of Vitamin B12 :
- Fortified Cereal: Fortified cereals as bran, whole wheat are a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, manganese and folates. A single serving of cereal packs about 2.5 mcg of Vitamin B12. The consumption of fortified cereal has also been known to treat constipation and prevent congenital disabilities.
- Low Fat Milk: A 16 ounce serving of low-fat milk contains about 2.6 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also rich in potassium, calcium, manganese and Vitamin D. The consumption of low-fat milk has been linked to healthy bone development and reduced bad cholesterol levels.
- Swiss cheese: A 100 gram serving of swiss cheese packs about 3.1 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also an excellent source of protein, healthy fats and potassium. The consumption of swiss cheese has been linked to lower blood pressure levels, increased bone health and metabolism.
- Low Fat Yoghurt: A single serving of low-fat yoghurt contains about 1.5 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of probiotics, potassium, calcium and liver culture. The consumption of low-fat yoghurt aids digestion boosts the immune system, and promotes bones' healthy development.
- Whey Protein: Whey protein consists of 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 per 100 grams and is a rich source of Vitamin D, Vitamin A, protein and calcium. The consumption of whey protein aids mass muscle development, prevention of Type-2 Diabetes, and lowers blood pressure.
- Health Supplements: Health supplements like HK Vitals B Complex are a viable source of Vitamin B12 for both vegans and vegetarians as they are industrially produced by synthesising bacteria and not be derived from animals. A single capsule contains about 15 mcg of Vitamin B12. It is also a rich source of biotin, folic acid, Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and various other nutrients. Consumption of health supplements aids the overall development of the body and boosts the immune system.
Deficiency Of Vitamin B12
Doctors recommend a minimum intake of 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 per day to maintain optimal body functioning. The deficiency of Vitamin B12 can lead to severe complications such as the development of B12 anaemia or pernicious anaemia, a condition characterised by the lack of formation of red blood cells. Red blood cells are required to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, the lack of which can cause symptoms like :
- Muscle weakness
- Pain or discomfort throughout the body
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or fatigue
- TIngling or numb sensation in the limbs
- Elevated heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Discolouration of skin
- Unusual weight loss or weight gain
Studies have confirmed that the following individuals are at a higher risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency :
- Those diagnosed with autoimmune disease are at a higher risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency due to the damage caused to the cells that produce intrinsic factor.
- Those who have had surgeries that may have required partial removal of the intestines.
- Those who are under prescribed medication such as antibiotics and anti-seizure drugs.
- Those afflicted with conditions such as Crohn's disease, HIV, etc., that disrupt the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
- Those who have been infected with tapeworms or bad bacteria.
It can be a difficult process, especially for vegans and vegetarians, to measure the Vitamin B12 levels of every single food item that they consume and regulate their intake based on that, which is why it is both practical and healthy to consume health supplements in addition to the food sources mentioned above as a part of a healthy and balanced diet. This ensures that your daily Vitamin B12 requirements are met in a single go.