Vegetarians are at a higher risk of vit B12 deficiency as it is found in animal sources and not in plants. Vitamin B12 plays an essential part in red blood cell formation, neurological functions, and DNA synthesis. For vegans, it is best to opt for fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and soy products, milk, egg, cheese, and some sea vegetables, apart from supplements.
Eating a ton of veggies and still finding yourself B12 deficient? A water-soluble vitamin of the vitamin B family, cobalamin or vitamin B12 plays an essential part in red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and neurological functions. But unlike many of its counterparts, vitamin B12 is found in animal sources and not in plants. Animal-based foods, especially liver, clams, egg yolks, and salmon, are good sources of B12. So are milk, dairy products, and poultry. While meat-eaters may not be at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, there is a possibility of vegans or vegetarians losing out on the benefits of this vitamin.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in issues such as anemia, fatigue, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss. The neurological fallout can include depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, soreness of the mouth or tongue, and difficulty in balancing. Pernicious anemia, indicating a decrease in red blood cells in the body, is also associated with vitamin B12 deficiency. The absorption of this vitamin from its sources decreases with age. So how do you make enough of this vital vitamin to go around especially if you are vegetarian?
Sources of Vitamin B12 for Vegetarians
Vegetarians will have to resort to dairy, fortified, or supplemented products for their daily dose of B12. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of vitamin B12. One study by William Shurtleff lists three non-animal sources of B12 for vegetarians: yeasts and other single cell proteins; fermented soybean-based foods; and sea vegetables such as kombu, wakame, nori, hijiki, and dulse. Tempeh (a high-protein soy food) is considered the best vegetarian source of B12 in North America1 You can also meet B12 requirements through other supplemented or fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, soy milk and products, vegetable margarine, and plant-derived analogs. A study by Tucker et al. confirms that fortified cereal, milk, and supplements can “protect against lower concentrations of B12.” Participants who took a vitamin B12 supplement or ate fortified cereal at least 4 times a week were found to be less prone to vitamin B12 deficiency.2
As plant sources are limited, vegetarians need to pay extra attention to this component while planning their meals. Check the “nutritional facts” on food labels on products to see if they feature B12 and to what extent. But stay away from unhealthy processed foods even if they claim to be fortified with B12.
Are Supplements Effective?
In dietary supplements, vitamin B12 is found in readily absorbable forms. But the body’s capacity to absorb it is still limited when compared to absorption from its natural forms. For example, only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg oral supplement is actually absorbed in healthy people.3
So do supplements work? Although there’s no 100% absorption of vitamin B12 from supplements and they aren’t a replacement for natural sources, supplements can still be a good bet.4 In a study conducted in older men to see if supplements improved B12 intake, it was found that 80% of the users met the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of the vitamin through supplements.5
Many factors determine how much B12 your body needs – age, gender, lifestyle are all factors. The EAR and Recommended Dietary Allowance for men and women aged between 19 and 50 years are estimated to be 2 μg/day and 2.4 μg/day, respectively. As vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient and its absorption by the body decreases due to aging, it is better to include foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 in the regular diet of the elderly, to get the maximum benefits of this vitamin. A vitamin B12 overdose isn’t known to have any adverse or serious side effects, so that’s a good thing going. One study by Megha et al., however, did show that high serum B12 concentrations (most likely > 1,000 pmol/L) led to acne-like dermatological symptoms among some individuals[ref]Arora, Megha K., Shashi Seth, and Surabhi Dayal. “Homocysteine, folic acid and vitamin B12 levels in females with severe acne vulgaris.” Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 50, no. 11 (2012): 2061-2063.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Shurtleff, William. “Vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.” Vegetarian Times (USA) (1983).|
|2.||↑||Tucker, Katherine L., Sharron Rich, Irwin Rosenberg, Paul Jacques, Gerard Dallal, Peter WF Wilson, and Jacob Selhub. “Plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 2 (2000): 514-522.|
|3.||↑||Vitamin B12: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. Updated: February 11, 2016.|
|4.||↑||”Naurath, Hans J., Etienne Joosten, Reiner Riezler, S. Stabler, R. H. Allen, and J. Lindenbaum. “Effects of vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin B6 supplements in elderly people with normal serum vitamin concentrations.” The Lancet 346, no. 8967 (1995): 85-89.”|
|5.||↑||Sebastian, Rhonda S., et al. “Older adults who use vitamin/mineral supplements differ from nonusers in nutrient intake adequacy and dietary attitudes.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 107.8 (2007): 1322-1332.|