Saturday, 20 August 2011

Let’s talk about vitamin B12

Victim B12, or cobalamin as it’s also called, is very important to keep your body functioning. All of the B vitamins, including B12, help to convert food into fuel in the human body. In other words, they give you energy.

Not having enough B12 can cause something called pernicious anaemia, also known as B12 deficiency.  

What else does B12 do?
It helps the brain and nervous system to function normally. B12 also has a vital role in the formation of blood and the metabolism of every single cell of the body.

How do I know if I have a B12 deficiency?
Here’s a list of symptoms -
  1. You may feel tired and lethargic all of the time.
  2. You may get headaches
  3. You may have a reduced appetite.
  4. You may suffer from palpitations (feel your heart thump in your chest)
  5. You may have a sore throat or tongue
  6. You may also suffer from nerve damage. This is called B12 neuropathy and it may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs. You may get some numbness and tingling in your toes and fingers.
  7. You may look jaundiced (have a yellow tinge to your skin and around your eyes).
  8. You may get confused and forgetful.
  9. You may feel depressed.
  10. You may also suffer from diarrhoea.
FACT - There is also evidence that people suffering from Alzheimer’s are deficient in B12

Note – as these symptoms apply to many different ailments, you need to see your doctor about a diagnosis. You also may not have all of the symptoms.

How is B12 deficiency diagnosed?
The levels of the vitamin in your body can be measured using a blood test.

Why would anyone be deficient in B12?
  1. Because their diet doesn’t include enough B12. Note – it’s a myth that just vegetarians and vegans can be deficient in B12.
  2. Because their body can’t absorb B12 properly. This means that no matter how much B12 containing foods they have in their diet, they will be deficient. In their case they need medications to help them absorb B12. To determine whether your body can absorb B12, a simple blood test is needed.
  3. They take anti-acids like which stop the body absorbing B12.
How is B12 deficiency treated?
If lack of B12 in your diet is the problem then you will be asked to change your diet to include foods with B12. You may be referred to a dietician or asked to take B12 supplements.

If your body lacks the ability to absorb B12 properly, medication will be needed as you may have pernicious anaemia whereby the body is unable to absorb enough B12 into the gastro gastro-intestinal tract.

Do vegetarians need to worry about B12 intake?
Vegetarians who don’t eat eggs or dairy should follow the same advice given to vegans. Namely that they eat B12 fortified foods and take supplements.

What are the best sources of B12 for vegans?
  1. Supplements – The Vegan Society recommends that vegans all take supplements, as well as fortified foods.
  2. Many cereals are fortified with B12.
  3. Many soya (soy), rice and oat milks may also have B12 added
  4. B12 can also be found in energy drinks
  5. Yeast flakes that are fortified with B12 can be used in soups, stews and toppings.

Note – none of the advice given in this piece is any substitute for proper medical and dietary advice.

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