What Is Vitamin B12, And When Should It Be Supplemented?

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin. As the word says, it is soluble in water; it is only partially accumulated in the body, so it must be regularly consumed through food.

Those who follow or would like to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may have already heard of this vitamin, as often, this type of diet may require the use of specific supplements. We find out what vitamin B12 is used for and where to find it.

Vitamin B12: What It Is For

Vitamin B12 is involved in various roles, which are essential to ensure the body functions perfectly. In particular, it is necessary to metabolize amino acids, nucleic acids, and folic acid. It assists the synthesis of DNA and RNA – and fatty acids. It is also essential in the production of red blood cells and the formation of the bone marrow. It also promotes the transformation of nutrients into energy and reduces stress by increasing a good mood.

Vitamin B12 And Nutrition

Vitamin B12 is present in foods of animal origin, where it is found in an enzymatic form, therefore bound to proteins, and is made available thanks to some gastric enzymes. We find it in particular in:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Milk
  • Eggs

The amount of vitamin B12 absorbed compared to that present in food is 60% for meat and milk, 30-40% for fish products, and, according to some studies, less than 10% for eggs. In addition, about a third of the vitamin is lost with cooking. The daily vitamin B12 for adults corresponds to about 2-2.4 mcg, a quantity usually taken following a normal diet. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women must take a larger amount to provide the right amount to the fetus.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: What Does It Involve?

For those who follow a varied and balanced diet, it is difficult to record a situation of vitamin B12 deficiency; a condition of this type can occur in subjects who follow a vegan diet or when the absorption mechanism does not work well in the intestine. In the case of malabsorption, the causes can be: inflammatory diseases, malabsorption diseases (e.g., celiac disease ), the proliferation of bacteria, drugs, decreased gastric acidity, especially in the elderly, or absence of intrinsic factor; the latter is responsible for the absorption of vitamin B12.

In the case of vegan diets, the deficiency is linked to the lack of foods of animal origin that contain it. The main consequence of vitamin B12 deficiency is a form of anemia called “pernicious,” resulting from poor production of blood cells, which can cause paleness, weakness, tingling in the limbs, and fatigue. In severe cases, there can also be consequences on the nervous system.

The diagnosis is made using a blood test: if a deficiency is suspected, the level of vitamin B12 in the blood is assessed, and the size of the red blood cells is checked so that the size of the red blood cells is not too large. Vitamin B12 deficiency is to be avoided in pregnant women to avoid harmful consequences for the unborn child.

Vitamin B12 And Vegan Diet

For the moment, there are no processed plant foods that could satisfy human vitamin B12 needs. Some algae, brewer’s yeast, some foods of oriental origin such as tempeh (derived from soybeans) and Kombucha (Chinese tea) contain vitamin B12 but in tiny proportions, useless for human needs since they are not assimilable from our body.

For this reason, those who eat only plant-based foods need to take this vitamin through specific supplements; The consumption of fortified foods, that is, with the addition of vitamin B12, can also be helpful. Even in newborns of vegan mothers, it is important to start supplement treatment immediately after birth to prevent deficiency.

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