Vitamin B12 is essential for vegans or strict vegetarians, since it is a vitamin that we find especially in foods of animal origin. Find out everything you need to know about her.
Did you know that a relatively low intake of vitamin B12 can cause a deterioration of the nervous system and also anemia? It is what is medically known as vitamin B12 deficiency, and the main reason is due to the reduced or no ingestion of foods rich in this vitamin.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient also known by the name of cobalamin. It is a vitamin that was discovered rather recently, since its structure was discovered in 1956 as a result of a study of medical and scientific research on pernicious anemia.
In fact, as many specialists state, it is possible that when there is a deficiency of vitamin B12, the symptoms of pernicious anemia are hidden if enough folic acid is consumed, until it is late and irreversible neurological damage has already occurred.
What are the functions of vitamin B12?
Among other important functions, vitamin B12 is essential for:
- The nervous system: maintains a healthy nervous system, maintaining the myelin sheath that protects and surrounds the nerves.
- For growth: it is essential for children as it promotes growth.
- For red blood cells: it is necessary for the production of red blood cells in the blood (hence its deficit causes anemia).
- For metabolism: it is used by our body to metabolize fatty acids.
And what are the consequences of its deficit?
A deficiency of vitamin B12 can pose a health risk, and cause certain disorders or conditions. In the case of many strict vegetarians or vegans, the risk stems from not recognizing the seriousness of the consequences of a deficiency in vitamin B12. We summarize those consequences below.
The anemia vitamin B12 deficiency is a condition in which our body does not have enough red blood cells. Symptoms can be mild, and include symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, dizziness when standing or straining, trouble concentrating, pale skin, loss of appetite, diarrhea or constipation, and shortness of breath.
The risk is greater if low levels of vitamin B12 are maintained over time, since neurological damage can occur, which we will comment on below.
This damage is associated with a deficiency of vitamin B12, especially when this deficiency is maintained over time. Among other associated symptoms, it can be confusion, dementia (especially in severe cases), loss of balance, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, and depression.
Other associated conditions
In addition to the two health conditions listed above, other problems can also occur such as:
- Potential risk of heart disease.
- Complications in pregnancy.
- Menstrual problems
Why is its extra consumption so important by vegans and strict vegetarians?
Unless large amounts of breakfast cereals enriched with this vitamin are consumed, the most common is that both vegans and strict vegetarians are deficient in vitamin B12 if they do not consume an extra supplement of this vitamin. Why? Mainly because it is only obtained from products of animal origin.
In this sense, many defend that some foods of plant origin, such as some seaweed (especially spirulina or nori), some mushrooms (such as chanterelle or shiitake) or tempeh products already provide vitamin B12. But the truth is that they contain amounts that are not always bioavailable and in amounts so disputed that it would be a risk not to supplement the diet with nutritional supplements that do provide it.
In other words, the only reliable sources of vitamin B12 that are also vegan are foods fortified with it. And it is that although many vegans or strict vegetarians consume sufficient amounts of this vitamin to avoid the deterioration of the nervous system or pernicious anemia, the reality is that they do not obtain the necessary amount to minimize the risk of complications in pregnancy or heart disease.
The risk is even greater if we take into account that for the organic consequences of this deficit to be detected, and the lack of this vitamin itself, it may take years.
But if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can rest easy, since by consuming foods of animal origin such as eggs, cheese or milk, you will obtain sufficient amounts of vitamin B12. For example, brie cheese is one of the richest animal foods, providing around 3.10 mcg.
How to provide enough vitamin B12 to your body if you are vegan?
As the Vegan Society itself defends (an association founded in 1944 with the aim of spreading vegan by adopting a recognized approach to reducing consumption and animal suffering), in order to follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet with some peace of mind, it is important that some of the following points:
- Consume 2 or 3 times a day foods enriched in vitamin B12 (at least 3 mcg or ug).
- Take a vitamin B12 supplement daily that provides 10 mcg.
- Take a vitamin B12 supplement a week that provides 2000 mcg.
If you choose to eat fortified foods, it is very important to check the food label carefully to make sure that you are actually getting enough B12. Let’s take an example: if you choose to consume a bowl of cereals enriched with enriched plant-based milk that together gives you 1 mcg of B12 for each serving, then you will get an adequate contribution if you consume 3 servings a day.