THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN B12
WHAT IS VITAMIN B12 AND WHY DOES YOUR BODY NEED IT?
Vitamin B12, known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that is required for DNA synthesis, proper red blood cell production and neurological function. In healthy individuals, a B12 deficiency is rare due to the body's ability to store several years' worth of the vitamin. Absorption is primarily dependent on what is known as intrinsic factor in the stomach. Certain conditions and factors that alter the amount of stomach acid will disrupt the absorption of vitamin B12, leading to a deficiency. These factors include age, heavy alcohol use and a history of stomach resection or weight loss surgery.
Since vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products, vegans and vegetarians are also susceptible to deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can present as what is called megaloblastic anemia. This means that there are too few red blood cells and the cells are larger than normal, which can affect the body's ability to transport oxygen to all the cells. Vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest itself in the following symptoms: tingling of the extremities, loss of balance, depression, weakness, gastrointestinal symptoms and memory loss. It is important to note that these neurologic symptoms can occur without the presence of anemia.
WHERE VEGANS AND VEGETARIANS CAN GET B12
Although most dietary sources of B12 are animal products, vegans and vegetarians do have some sources of B12 available to them. Nutritional yeast and fortified cereals are examples of plant-based sources of vitamin B12.
Anyone following a plant-based diet, especially vegans, would likely benefit from taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
WHAT'S THE RECOMMENDED DIETARY ALLOWANCE (RDA) FOR EACH AGE GROUP?
General guidelines recommend an intake of 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 for anyone ages 14 and up each day, with pregnant and breastfeeding women needing more (2.6 mcg during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg while breastfeeding). Younger children need less, with infants aged 0-6 months needing 0.4 mcg, infants aged 7-12 months needing 0.5 mcg, kids aged 1-3 years needing 0.9 mcg, kids aged 4-8 years needing 1.2 mcg and kids aged 9-13 years needing 1.8 mcg.
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that plays a role in many extremely important functions of the body. If you are at increased risk of deficiency, you should talk to your health professional about having your level checked or discuss starting a supplement.
Although most food sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, there are ways for vegans and vegetarians to use supplements and avoid deficiency.