Common nutritional deficiencies: Vitamin B12

What is it and how does is affect our body?

Vitamin B12 sometimes known as the ‘energy vitamin’ is of particular importance to vegetarians and vegans as it’s found in the tissues of animals and seldom in plant based foods and it is hard for the body to absorb it. So vegetarians can struggle to eat adequate amounts in their diet and vegans need to take supplements.

The body can store B12 for long periods, even years, mostly in the liver, which means it can take many years before a deficiency is noticed. So if you have transitioned to vegetarianism or veganism this is something to be aware of.

People over the age of fifty, suffering from celiac disease or other digestive issues may not be able to absorb vitamin B12 and also be at risk of deficiency. A common cause is those suffering from pernicious anaemia. This is an autoimmune conditions where your immune system attacks the cells in your stomach that produce intrinsic factor, without this your body is unable to absorb vitamin B12.

B12 is necessary for the normal function of the nervous system, helps make DNA, produces healthy red blood cells and is involved in protein and carbohydrate metabolism ie converting food to energy. It also helps with the normal function of our immune system, and controls our homocysteine levels, high levels of which are associated with heart disease.

Deficiency can lead to symptoms such as feeling extremely tired, lethargic, loss of appetite and weight loss, feeling faint, headaches, clumsiness and lack of coordination and will affect your overall wellbeing and productivity.

Where can we find it?

Meat and fish are the best sources, with the liver being the best of all as it’s where B12 is primarily stored. Shellfish and eggs (especially the yolk) are also good, milk and dairy also contain B12 but in smaller quantities.

Excessive drinking of alcohol can hinder B12 absorption as it depletes your stomach acid which is needed to absorb B12 and because it’s stored in the liver, large quantities of alcohol can harm the function of your liver, making it harder for the liver to use it.

But with careful consideration to your diet whether that means incorporating certain foods or taking a supplement (if you are vegan), then B12 deficiency shouldn't be a problem.

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