What every vegan should know about vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 also known as cobalamine is one of the B vitamins involved in cell metabolism. Food sources of B12 include meat, fish and dairy. No animal, plant or fungi are capable of producing vitamin B12.
Deficiency of vitamin B12 is more common in developing countries and is seen across life span. If not treated the deficiency can lead to anemia as well as damage to the nerve and brain which could be irreversible. Rate of deficiency are higher in vegetarians and vegans than in omnivores. Although vitamin B12 is synthesized by bacteria in the large intestine, it cannot be relied upon to prevent deficiency in vegans.
Who all are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency
- Pure vegetarians– Vegetarian diet is a poor source of vitamin B12, hence, symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are more common in veg people.
- People with gastro-intestinal disorders such as malabsorption, after certain gastric surgeries, etc.
- People with autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism (lack of thyroid hormone), vitiligo (white patches on skin), myasthenia gravis (manifested by muscular weakness and fatigue). This is because presence of auto-antibodies may inhibit the absorption of vitamin B12 in the gut.
Values below 170 pg/ml for adults indicate B12 deficiency.
Levels of the vitamin can be increased by having the right foods and supplements. These include
- Consuming more of animal products like meat, fish, poultry and dairy products.
- Include B12 fortified cereal.
- Discuss B12 supplementation with your doctor. Some people may need injections/pills
Most people diagnosed and treated at an early stage show a good recovery which could be prolonged over weeks to months.