We are all becoming more familiar with the essential nutrients needed by our bodies. Those essentials include a mini-alphabet of vitamins. With the rise of veganism, the need for vitamin B12 is becoming more important.
What is vitamin B12, where does it come from and how can we be sure that we have enough?
Vitamin B12 exists in several forms, known as cobalamins. Humans cannot make B12, although it is the only water soluble vitamin that can be stored in the body. It is obtained from food in a two stage process. First, the acid in the stomach separates out the B12, and then it is combined with a separate protein made by the stomach. This combination allows it to be absorbed by the body, so both processes must work.
Vitamin B12 is vital for the functioning of nerve cells and the manufacture of blood cells. Deficiency can cause anaemia, neurological symptoms, digestive symptoms and fatigue. Damage can be permanent if not treated.
Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria, and thus can only be obtained from animal food sources. Good foods to eat for B12 include red meat, eggs, dairy products and fish. Fortified foods such as cereals and spreads also include B12. The body absorbs B12 best in small frequent doses.
All animals need B12 – so how do herbivores such as cows and sheep cope? The answer is that they eat food that is contaminated with animal bacteria. This is not an approach that most humans would want to take. For non-meat eaters, the two sources of B12 are fortification and supplementation.
Vegans should eat B12 fortified foods, and take a daily supplement of at least 10 micrograms of B12. Such a supplement may also be useful for non-vegans, as there are no current upper limits for a B12 dose.
Check your diet and consider a supplement to make sure you get the B12 that you need.
i am becoming vegetarian in 2019 so this is something I'm interested in. I hadn't realised I shsuld take a supplement too, or is that just for vegans?
This is the very reason I think anyone who raises their children vegan is wrong. I don't think supplementing a child with B12 would compensate for it either.
I have somthing called Gilbert's Syndrome and this also means I need more vitamin B12. Once I started supplementing I felt a lot better with more energy. It's not just vegans who need it.
Cows and sheep need B12? Who knew? And now I understand where they get it from, and why human vegans prefer supplements!