Vitamin B12 is not just an important nutrient ... it is critical to the health of your entire nervous system, including your brain, spinal pathways, and blood cells. In addition, this vitamin also helps the body make DNA, the genetic blueprint or code in each cell.1 Despite the key role this vitamin plays in your body, researchers have found that nearly 40% of the US population is deficient in this vitamin.2
Although vitamin B12 is found in animal products (including poultry, meat, dairy and fish), it is not made by animals or even by plants but by microbes that are found all over the earth. It appears that in the past, humans were able to get sufficient amounts of B12 in water (only tiny amounts are needed), but in the highly sanitized world that we live in today, our water supply is typically chlorinated to kill bacteria (including beneficial bacteria types that are able to generate B12) – so we aren’t getting B12 from our water supply any more. In addition, very small amounts of vitamin B12 may be present on the surface of naturally grown vegetables, but again, widespread sanitation practices typically cleanse the outer surfaces of vegetables so that no traces of B12 remain.
B12 deficiency is sometimes thought to be directly associated with those eating a plant-based diet (called a vegan diet). However, multiple studies have confirmed that B12 deficiency is common in vegans and vegetarians as well as meat-eaters. Researchers have found that nearly 40 percent of people in the US are deficient in B12. Why are so many meat eaters deficient in B12 or at risk for B12 deficiency despite eating meat (which contains B12)? In order for vitamin B12 to be absorbed in the stomach, it needs to attach to Intrinsic Factor, a specific carrier agent, so it can pass from the intestines into the blood stream. Many people are deficient in Intrinsic Factor (which is made by parietal cells in the stomach), so this process may falter.
However, if you are eating a plant-based diet (which excludes meat, poultry, dairy and fish), it is critically important to take a reliable source of vitamin B12 on a regular basis. For those just starting a vegan diet, they may have adequate stores of B12 in their body. But over time, B12 deficiency can occur and may take years to develop. Ultimately, the outcome of a B12 deficiency can be devastating. Cases have been reported with symptoms due to chronic B12 deficiency of muscle weakness, anemia, nerve damage, intestinal dysregulation, paralysis, psychosis, blindness, and even death. Mothers who eat a plant-based diet and who have newborn babies should be sure to supplement with B12 or they may be at high risk to develop a B12 deficiency which can lead to disastrous results. You can see the emphasis on taking a sufficient amount of vitamin B12 for those with plant-based diets.
As we age, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 may decline. For adults who are under the age of 65, it is recommended to take at least 2,000 mcg of a vitamin B12 supplement each week or 50 mcg. daily. For those who are over age 65 and who eat plant-based diets, it is probably a good idea to take 1,000 mcg of B12 daily.
Another source is to take vitamin B12-fortified nutritional yeast; two teaspoons, three times daily, may be sufficient. To continue to keep up vitamin B12 levels, you can choose to look for other foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified non-dairy milk, meat substitutes, and breakfast cereals. However, some of these foods might also be laden with harmful sugars and damaging preservatives, so be sure to read the product labels before purchasing them.3
B12 is a key vitamin – be sure you are getting enough of it!
- “Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin B12.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/.
- Covel, Kaitlin. “Your Genes May Include You In The 40% of Vitamin B12 Deficiency, But One Supplement Can Help.” EmaxHealth, 2017, www.emaxhealth.com/13955/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-genetic-link.
- “Children's Cereal.” Center for Environmental Health, www.ceh.org/products/childrens-cereal/.
- “Vitamin B-12.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Oct. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-b12/art-20363663.
- Johnson, Larry E., et al. “Vitamin B12 Deficiency - Disorders of Nutrition.” Merck Manuals Consumer Version, Merck Manuals, www.merckmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/vitamins/vitamin-b12-deficiency.