Yes! We’re talking about one of the most critical nutrients to humankind, Vitamin B12. It’s inside the soil. It flows in freshwater streams. It is found in very few plants on the planet and is one of the most challenging nutrients to obtain. Even on a meat-based diet, it is quite challenging to obtain your RDA for this nutrient. The consequences of being deficient are too grave to ignore, and they only manifest years after one has been deficient. It is not just vegans, but everyone that needs to be educated and made aware about the importance of Vitamin B12.
We will be covering some of the most pertinent topics related to vitamin B12 in this blog.
- First we’ll tell you what exactly B12 is.
- Secondly, we’ll talk about the types of B12 and how to improve absorption.
- Thirdly we’ll discuss sources of B12.
- Fourthly, we’ll talk about the importance of B12.
- Lastly, we’ll talk about the fallouts of not having sufficient levels of B12.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin found sparsely in a tiny, specific set of foods in very trace amounts. It is primarily made by bacteria present in the soil and water. It is also made in the digestive tracts of bigger land animals. Now, we all know that by following a meat-based diet along with a little bit of supplementation, we can achieve a sufficient portion of the RDA for B12 but that is neither healthy nor vegan.
We are also well aware that following a meat-based diet is terrible for the earth, our own health, the animals, and for the health of fellow human beings. Hence, we shall only be discussing plant-based sources of B12. There are two available forms of Vitamin B12: Methylcobalamin and Cyanocobalamin.
Methylcobalamin is a naturally occurring form of B12, that is found in a variety of plant-based, and non-vegan food, such as poultry, dairy, meat, fish, edible mushrooms and products made out of algae-based plants such as Spirulina, Chlorella, and Nori (dried seaweed).
While it was found that Cyanocobalamin was more absorbable than Methylcobalamin, researchers also noticed that the body excreted a greater chunk of it. Hence, it is generally known that Methylcobalamin is the superior type and this is the reason it is not as ubiquitous as Cyanocobalamin.
More often than not, you will find the cheaper version of B12, Cyanocobalamin in fortified food products. It is combined with folate and vitamin D for faster and easy absorption to help the body directly carry it to the cells where it is required.
It is a cheaper, synthetic form of B12 that is not available in nature. It was primarily developed for use in supplements and fortified food products. Manufacturers generally prefer to use this type of B12 as it is cost-effective, and does not cause any ill-effects to the consumer at the same time. Getting your B12 in the form of Cyanocobalamin is neither harmful or unhealthy, but do make your best effort in obtaining it from Methylcobalamin.
With that being said, there are a certain series of steps and actions you can take to improve absorption and utilization of vitamin B12 in your body:
- Get out in the sun more often
Vitamin D directly facilitates the absorption of calcium in the body. Both these nutrients not only help in retaining calcium, that would otherwise be lost but also helps in reducing inflammation, maintaining immune function, and facilitating cell growth. Lack of sun exposure on a regular basis has been proven to lead to deficiencies in either Vitamin D or Vitamin B12.
It is estimated that more than half the world's populace might be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, with a whopping majority of them not even being aware of it. Getting out in the sun daily, for a couple of minutes kickstarts the vitamin D making process in your body, and helps build immunity against viruses in the long run.
- Exercise more
Being fit and active on a regular basis is known to not only improve the absorption and utilization of Vitamin B12 but absorption of the wide spectrum of nutrients on average. Maintaining a lean, healthy frame with age appropriate BMI goes a long way in making sure that you are healthy and fit for years to come while staving off major lifestyle diseases, and avoiding surgeries and other medical procedures. Combining exercise with sunlight exposure is a powerful combination to ensure that your immune system is in top shape and that your body is in perfectly functioning condition.
- Eat a wide and healthy range of foods
For a huge chunk of humanity, eating the traditional, conventional family diet passed on to them from previous generations is the norm. However, modern lifestyle diseases require modern solutions, and so this homogeneity and uniformity will no longer work.
With most working people being upwardly mobile and travel conscious, there is a new curiosity about all things hip, trendy and global. Peer pressure, working habits, eating habits, and social structures all play a great role in shaping one's diet in today's world. Also, one's social circle is most likely to consist of varying individuals from diverse backgrounds, and with it comes the sharing of new tastes and cuisines never heard about before. It is upto the individual to sift through this maze and select the good among the mind boggling variety and range of options available. Ensure that your diet is not limited to one particular set of foods. Eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds, nuts, grains, millets and cereals.
- Go Vegan
Going vegan not only benefits those who are fit and active but those who are less sportive as well. Transitioning to a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce blood thickening, help in opening arteries, clearing them of plaque causing atherosclerosis. Going vegan also improves metabolism, facilitating faster muscle recovery among a host of other advantages. Following a healthy vegan diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses , and seeds has been proven to reduce inflammation, improve alkalinity and prevent the onset of lifestyle diseases. A vegan diet perfectly complements and facilitates better overall absorption of nutrients in the body. This is subject to you following a healthy and balanced diet, fitness regime, along with healthy work, sleeping and eating habits. You can read all about how to navigate veganism as a first timer, in our blog “Vegan diet for beginners”.
Importance of B12
So, is it only for those looking to ace those tests, and reach those fitness goals?
Not at all. B12 is neither a mental stimulant, nor a sports supplement. It is a basic requirement for all human beings, no matter what their job profiles or extracurricular aspirations are. As we are well aware of the consequences of animal agriculture on the environment, humans and on animals, obtaining it from meat is neither a viable, nor safe option. Compounding the issue is its sparse availability in a select group of plants, mainly fungi, the quantities of which doesn’t even scratch the surface of our RDA.
So how exactly do you get it? And how do you make sure that you keep getting it? Well, the good news is that it is one of the nutrients that tends to accumulate in a person's body over time, and those stores will hold good for quite a while. There are a couple of factors which play a role in how long the body can hold B12 for, without any intake either by diet or supplementation but that is something that is beyond the scope of this blog. So for now, let’s just talk about its importance.
It is a very critical nutrient responsible for facilitating a host of functions in the body:
- It helps in maintaining healthy nerve and neurological function.
- It is responsible for DNA and RNA synthesis.
- It improves immune function and helps in long term maintenance of the immune system.
- It is also critical to the formation of Red Blood Cells.
Sources of B12
Now let's check out all the plant-based sources of Vitamin B12
It is available in nature in really trace quantities in plants such as Spirulina, Seaweed, Mushrooms, and Spinach. The amount of B12 contained in these foods is so infinitesimally small, that you would have to consume them in disproportionately large quantities just to get the required daily allowance, which is neither feasible nor possible in today's day and age. It would be prudent to include these B12 rich foods in your diet for the health benefits they offer. However, they cannot be relied upon as a go-to source for maintaining optimum levels of B12.
- Fortified food products
Like we mentioned in the introduction, B12 is quite widely found in fortified food products in the form or Cyanocobalamin. Again, you would have to ingest massive quantities of them just to get the daily allowance. This doesn’t mean you can't consume fortified foods for B12. Some food products that are fortified with B12 include Vegan milks such as Almond and Soy milk, vegetable and fruit juices, nutritional yeast, probiotics like water kefir and kombucha, breakfast cereals, and mock meat.
This is the best and most effective way of getting your dose of B12, especially for those who think they might be having a deficiency, or those who have already been diagnosed with a deficiency. Intramuscular B12 injections are available over the counter in most pharmacies and medical stores. They are injected either through the legs or arms. Please consult a medical professional before attempting to take them.
- Capsules and tablets
The RDA for B12 is 2.4 mcg. Tablets and supplement capsules available over the counter generally contain about 1000 to 2000 mcg of B12. This is to offset for losses during absorption. Typically, injections and capsules are formulated along with B-vitamins and Folic Acid in order to stimulate absorption and ensure that most of it is utilized by the body. ‘Unived B12-veg’ vitamin B12 capsules contain just the right proportion of Methylcobalamin, B vitamins and Folic acid, in order to promote maximum utilization and absorption.
If you’ve predominantly been a meat eater, or even a lacto-ovo vegetarian for a long time, there is little to worry about (other than the health consequences of consuming meat itself). However, if your diet has predominantly leaned towards veganism unconsciously, it would be prudent to start thinking about supplementing B12 in your diet.
Multiple factors shape what a person consumes in his/her day to day life; even on a vegan diet, there is so much variety and variability, that it is quite improbable that 2 vegans could even remotely be consuming the same kind of food.
The implications for being deficient in this vitamin are far too great to be ignored. You could suffer irreversible nerve damage, have a greater risk of having a stroke, a higher chance of heart or brain issues, and lastly, in most extreme cases, it could also lead to death. If it is left unchecked for many years, it could even lead to anemia and neurological issues. This is the reason it is of utmost importance that you do not take B12 lightly, and make the most of the present abundance and opportunity to find daily sources of B12 to include in your diet.
While travelling, it would be best to carry supplements with you as chances of consuming a traditional diet are either scarce or very inconvenient. The early warning signs of a deficiency are few and far between, and most of the time, are passed off as symptoms of other diseases or illness. It is most often misdiagnosed as some other malady or illness and appropriate treatment is given for that illness.
The most pressing issue about B12 deficiency is not that the body does not show any symptoms of it, but that the symptoms are too subtle to be noticed early on or when it is already too late or the process of irreversible brain or nerve damage has already begun.
- Don’t allow the complexity of this subject to stop you from laying your hands on the most convenient form of B12 available to you.
- We are only here to advise and recommend some sources of B12, and are in no way whatsoever claiming to be medical professionals on the topic.
- The best way to maintain ideal and healthy levels for any nutrient is following a fit and active lifestyle with regular work, sleep and eating routine in place.
- Supplements are to be included only as part of a healthy diet in moderation and are in no way meant to make up for a bad diet, sedentary living, or unhealthy eating habits.