Why do I need B12?
Vitamin B12 is used to make red blood cells, helps to release energy from food and is used in processing folic acid. It is also used within the nervous system to maintain healthy nerve function.
How much do I need?
1.5 micrograms a day for adults
For most people, just a normal balanced diet will provide them with enough vitamin B12 as it is found mostly in animal products. However, it is quite difficult to get in a vegan diet and many vegans often suffer with a deficiency if they don’t take extra measures to ensure their diet has a regular source.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Dairy (e.g cheese/ yoghurt/milk)
Fortified breakfast cereals*
Fortified vegan spreads*
Fortified soya/almond/coconut milk*
Fortified nutritional yeast*
*check the label
How is vitamin B12 processed?
Foods containing vitamin B12 are first broken down in the stomach. This allows the vitamin B12 to be released and bound to specific proteins. These proteins then carry the B12 out of the stomach and into the small bowel, where they separated by pancreatic juice. This time the vitamin is bound to a ‘glycoprotein’ known as intrinsic factor. This intrinsic factor acts as a key for the B12 which is then absorbed into the blood, where is again binds to another protein and becomes ‘active B12.’
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency;
- Muscle weakness
- Disturbed vision
- Memory problems
- Extreme fatigue
- Mouth ulcers
As discussed previously, it is fairly uncommon to have a vitamin B12 deficiency through diet, unless you are vegan. In which case, simple changes to the diet and or a supplement will help.
However, there are other medical conditions which mean that your body may be unable to process vitamin B12 correctly and this again leads to deficiency regardless of your intake. Surgeries which have removed all or part of the stomach and pancreas will reduce a person’s ability to process vitamin B12. Certain medication may also affect a person’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 e.g anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors.
Intestinal conditions like chron’s disease and the autoimmune condition coeliac disease will cause damage to the lining of the intestine, reducing its ability to absorb vitamin B12. There is also another autoimmune condition known as pernicious anaemia where your immune system is attacking healthy cells, destroying the ability of the intrinsic factor to work effectively.
Whilst it is important to ensure your diet has good sources of vitamin B12, you should always speak to a doctor if you feel you may have a deficiency. You may have an underlying medical condition which needs the appropriate management or require B12 injections. It may even be that your symptoms are nothing to do with vitamin B12 deficiency. Your GP will be also able to accurately test you for B12 deficiency and get you on the right path to treatment.
If you would like more help with optimising your diet for vitamin B12 then please contact me.
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