Vitamin B12 is a highly discussed topic in the vegan and vegetarian diet. It is a very important vitamin as it is involved in the production of red blood cells, the synthesis of nucleic acids, maintenance of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, maintaining the health of the nerve cells and the nervous system. It plays a role in the metabolism of every cell in the body, and is important for a normal growth and development. Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products, such as meat, dairy products and eggs. There are claims that a small amount of B12 is present also in certain seaweeds and alfalfa. Some products that vegans and vegetarians consume are also often fortified with vitamin B12, such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast. So if you are vegetarian or vegan you have to make sure you supplement B12. But eating meat does not automatically mean you get enough B12 either! The reason for that is that the absorption process of this vitamin is really complex and depends on other factors as well.
The most common cause of deficiency in this vitamin is not lack of animal food consumption, but the inability of the body to absorb the vitamin. Two steps are required for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from food. First, hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which vitamin B12 is attached in food. After this, vitamin B12 combines with a protein made by the stomach called intrinsic factor and is absorbed by the body. Some people have pernicious anemia, a condition where they cannot make intrinsic factor. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements.
Only small amounts of vitamin B12 are needed daily (around 1 microgram) and B12 can be stored in the body for around 5 years.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and neurological damage. Co-nutrients that can help the absorption of B12 are B complex vitamins, vitamins A and E, manganese, potassium, zinc and sodium.
So make sure you try and supplement this important vitamin to protect your precious nervous system and cells. I like to sprinkle nutritional yeast, fortified with B12 on my salad, in my tomato sauce, curry and lentils. It has a slight cheesy flavor to it.