Why Vitamin B12 is essential and 10 excellent sources
A quick look at why your body needs vitamin B12 and the food sources that naturally contain this essential micronutrient.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays several important roles in vital bodily functions.
Considering how essential the vitamin is to the body, it is among the ones that the body itself is unable to produce. Thus, it is extremely important that you regularly consume foods that contain vitamin B12 and get tested every once in a while.
Do you suspect vitamin B12 deficiency?
What essential roles do vitamin B12 play?
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is required for:
- Production of red blood cells
- DNA production
- Cell metabolism
- Releasing energy from food
- Maintenance of nervous system health
Red blood cells are an extremely important aspect of general wellbeing. The red cells in your blood help transport oxygen to all the organs around the body.
When the body has an ample supply of vitamin B12, the red blood cells produced are round and small. This small shape helps the blood cells move around the body more efficiently.
If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, not only will there be a drastic decline in the production of red blood cells, but the cells that actually get produced end up larger and misshapen.
Essentially, there will be fewer cells around, so your organs will receive less oxygen. This can result in weakness and fatigue.
Plus, the few red blood cells available will have difficulty moving from the bone marrow into your bloodstream. This can cause megaloblastic anaemia.
Homocysteine is a protein and having high levels of it increases your risk of stroke and heart disease. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to increased homocysteine levels, causing a high number of free radical cells, increased blood clot chance, and unhealthy blood vessel function.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Due to the numerous vital roles, vitamin B12 play in keeping the body’s functions running, a deficiency can result in a variety of symptoms. Some of the symptoms may manifest even if you are not anaemic but have vitamin B12 deficiency.
The symptoms of vitamin B12 include the following:
- Severe exhaustion
- Chronic lack of energy
- Mouth ulcers
- Sore and red tongue
- Weakened muscles
- Vision disorders
- Psychological disorders including depression, dementia, and confusion
- Memory and cognitive problems
- Paraesthesia (pins and needles)
What happens if vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated?
If left unchecked or untreated for extended periods, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to certain health complications. Even though they are not as common, these complications can occur whether or not you have anaemia along with vitamin B12 deficiency.
According to the NHS website, health complications that untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can potentially lead to include:
- Heart disease (including heart failure in some)
- Temporary infertility
- Nervous system issues
- Complications in pregnancy and congenital disabilities
If a person ends up afflicted with any of the health conditions listed here, they can be treated. However, some complications can become permanent such as issues with the nervous system.
Natural sources of vitamin B12
Animal products are the only natural source of vitamin B12. The following foods contain various quantities of the vitamin:
Organ meats like the liver and kidneys are usually the most nutrient-filled parts of an animal. The liver and kidneys from lamb, beef, or veal are incredible sources of vitamin B12.
Besides being a great source of vitamin B12, beef also provides decent quantities of vitamins B1, B3, and B6, selenium, and zinc.
- Milk and dairy products
Milk is a fantastic source of protein, along with various minerals and vitamins, including B12. It is not just milk either; other dairy products are good sources of vitamin B12 like yoghurt, cheese, and cream.
Whenever talking about foods that contain omega-3 fats, salmon is one of the first items to come up. Besides being one of the best sources of omega-3 fats, salmon is also an exceptional source of vitamin B12, among other B vitamins.
Tuna is packed with nutrients; it is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, including phosphorus, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamins B3 and B12.
Trout is an especially nutritious fish. Trout is a great source of B vitamins, healthy fats, and protein.
Sardines are famous for containing generous amounts of almost every nutrient there is, including cobalamin.
Clams, while an excellent supply of protein, have high B12 concentrations.
Eggs are one of the best sources of protein, but they are also a brilliant source of B vitamins, including B2 and B12.
- Poultry meat
Chicken and turkey contain substantial quantities of vitamin B12, especially in the breast portions.
What if I eat a vegan diet?
If you eat a strictly vegan diet, you are at an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. While vitamin supplements are a beneficial option, there are a few diet choices you could make. You can include the following foods in your daily routine to avoid deficiency:
- Fortified cereal
- Nutritionally fortified yeast
- Fortified non-dairy milk
Who is most at risk of deficiency?
A person can have vitamin B12 deficiency either because they do not consume a sufficient amount of food containing it or because their digestive system is unable to absorb nutrients from the food they eat fully.
People who are at an increased risk of deficiency include:
- People aged over 60
- People who follow a strict vegan diet
- Those afflicted with gastrointestinal disorders like coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease
- People who had a gastrointestinal surgery
Additionally, people who take metformin, as well as people who take proton pump inhibitors, are also at higher risk of becoming vitamin B12 deficient.
While adjusting your diet or adding supplements to your lifestyle can help a great deal, for some people, it may not be enough. For severe cases, doctors can prescribe IM vitamin injections.
Check your vitamin B12 status
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