Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is very important, but is only found in foods of animal origin. This is why people on a vegan or vegetarian diet often have to take vitamin B12 supplements in order to meet minimum daily requirements.
If a blood test shows inadequate levels of vitamin B12, this should not be taken lightly. It has a determining role in the functioning of the nervous system and also helps prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease.
In general, a varied and balanced diet provides the amount of vitamin B12 that our body needs daily. However, people who follow strict vegan diets may not. Well, vitamin B12 is usually found in cheeses, dairy products, eggs, fish and red meat.
Adults (also teens) need about 4 µg /day of vitamin B12 a day. However, a pregnant woman needs to increase this to 4.5 µg /day and, if she is breastfeeding, to 5 µg /day. For children the amounts are lower, from 1.5 µg to 3.5 µg /day.
In the indicated cases of following a vegetarian or vegan diet it is possible that the adequate levels of B12 are not reached. Although a blood test is the best way to know if there is a B12 deficit, in the long term, some symptoms can also alert you to this problem. Pale skin, difficulty breathing and concentrating, or loss of balance are some of them.
When there is a B12 deficit, a change in diet should be made or, failing that, a start on supplements. However, before doing the latter, it is advisable to be tested rather than be guided by the symptoms described and take supplements on your own, as they may be warning of some other problem such as a lack of iron or another vitamin.
In some situations, vitamin B12 deficiency may be related to problems or conditions that prevent vitamin B12 from being properly absorbed. People who drink too much alcohol, are older, or have certain digestive problems (Crohn’s disease, for example) can suffer from this.
In these cases, starting supplements should be considered, although a doctor should check to see if vitamin B12 is being absorbed well. This is the only way to provide the body with the vitamin B12 it needs on a daily basis.
It can be prevented by always including foods rich in B12 (red meat, eggs, fish, dairy products and cheese) in your diet. However, in certain cases, even if it is prevented, the deficit can appear and it should be solved as soon as possible through supplements or injections.
It is important that we have an annual blood test to check how our health is and if we have any vitamin deficiency. Sometimes, it is not necessary to start feeling bad to do this. Also, people who start vegan or vegetarian diets should do so with the support of a nutritionist, as there are risks of vitamin deficiencies such as B12.