Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient for the body as it ensures the healthy growth of red blood cells (RBCs) and the development of DNA. “It is a water-soluble vitamin that along with folic acid helps to create red blood cells in our body which ensure proper oxygen supply and circulation,” said Lavleen Kaur, co-founder, and head dietitian, Diet Insight.
However, the body cannot create this essential nutrient, and hence it needs to be compensated through one’s diet and/or other supplements.
But many people think that natural sources to get vitamin B12 are suitable for only those who follow a non-vegetarian diet. Does that mean vegetarians have to be dependent only on supplements to get this important vitamin?
What are the common sources of vitamin B12?
“Abundant minerals of vitamin B12 are found in the soil. When an animal eats a plant, it directly consumes the soil on it. Once a person consumes that animal meat, the person indirectly gets vitamin B12 from plant-based soil,” explained Kaur.
“However,” she continued, “nowadays our soil is filled with chemicals, fertilisers, and harmful pesticides. Even if we resort to plant-based sources like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, or onions; we might not get vitamin B12 through them. This is because we clean them thoroughly to ensure not even one grain of soil remains on the vegetable. Moreover, we have stopped playing with soil or gardening so there is absolutely no direct connection left between vitamin B-12 rich soil and us,” she told indianexpress.com.
What happens if the body is unable to get enough vitamin B12?
If the body doesn’t get enough vitamin B12, it will create fewer RBCs and lesser oxygen supply. A low oxygen supply would create problems of breathlessness, lack of energy, and feeling of tiredness and fatigue.
“Once we start experiencing any of these symptoms we wonder whether we’re eating right, exercising enough, or consider various other factors. But deep down the problem might be due to vitamin B12 deficiency,” she pointed out.
She added, when RBCs are not formed in the correct form and shape, it can lead to other problems. For example, if RBCs grow proportionately larger in our bone marrow, we might get a condition called megaloblastic anemia. In simpler words, RBCs are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout your body. Anemia occurs when the number of RBCs in your body is lower than usual. “This means that a lack of vitamin B12 might harm your nerves and impair your memory and cognition,” said Kaur.
Another symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is numbness or tingling, muscular weakness, and walking difficulties. “Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating a layer of fatty substance around our nerves and a lack of this vitamin would not create a strong sheet leading to issues of nerve connectivity,” described Kaur.
Moreover, vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6 create a special kind of amino acid called homocysteine which is used to make protein. This helps to avoid blood clogging in our blood vessels, she mentioned.
How to increase vitamin B12 levels?
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal sources, particularly meat and dairy products. Fortunately for vegans, cobalt foods and fortified sources can also be good providers of this vitamin.
Increase sources of cobalt
Cobalt is an essential nutrient element which is a component of vitamin B12. Cobalt is required by the body in minute levels to support development and maintenance. The quantity of cobalt found in food is determined by the soil in which the plants are cultivated. Some of the dietary sources abundant in cobalt include nuts, dry fruits, milk, cabbage, fig, turnip, oats, fish, broccoli, spinach, cold-pressed oils, etc.
Maintain gut health
Boosting cobalt supplies and fortified meals is essential, but so is increasing absorption power. This is where gut health comes into play since it is important for proper vitamin and nutrient absorption. Vitamin B12 gets absorbed in the stomach, thanks to a protein known as intrinsic factor. This chemical attaches to the vitamin B12 molecule, allowing it to enter the bloodstream and cells more easily.
“If your body does not generate enough intrinsic factor or if you do not consume enough vitamin-B12-rich foods, you may develop a deficiency. Therefore it is important to maintain a clean and healthy gut for building the intrinsic factor which will help in the proper absorption of Vitamin B12. To attain this, ensure that you find the root cause and fix any gut-related issues such as acidity, constipation, bloating, gas, etc,” she explained.
“It is extremely common for us to experience gut difficulties as we age as a result of gluten allergies, as a side effect of surgery, or due to heavy use of antacids or other diabetic or PCOD medicines, consuming alcohol or smoking, and so on. These are a few common issues that interfere with the intrinsic factor resulting in further gut health issues,” she added.
Especially infants, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and anyone at risk of insufficiency should constantly monitor their diets to ensure they are getting enough vitamin B12 while preserving gut health. The best way to keep your gut healthy is to start living a healthy lifestyle wherein you consume raw vegetables 30 minutes before your meal while also ensuring a healthy development of probiotics.
“Most importantly, we need to re-ignite the earthly connection between the soil and us. Don’t restrict your children from playing in the mud, try gardening as a hobby or simply create a clean environment,” she suggested.
Should one take vitamin B12 supplements?
“If you have vitamin B12 deficiency and it’s a necessity which is prescribed by your doctor, then you should continue. However, also try to reduce your dependency on these supplements and pills by finding the root cause and living a healthy lifestyle,” she said.