What is vitamin B12?
One of eight essential B vitamins, B12 is involved in DNA production, fighting fatigue, maintaining a healthy nervous system, and converting food to energy.
Vitamin B12 works in conjunction with vitamin B9 to produce red blood cells and help iron do the job of creating the oxygen carrying protein, haemoglobin. It also helps regulate the immune system and stabilise your mood.
But a recent study found that one in 12 women aged between 19 and 39 were B12 deficient, despite consuming the recommended minimum intake. This is particularly important if you follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, because it’s harder to consume vitamin B12 from nutrition alone on a plant-based diet. So how can we ensure we hit our daily vitamin B12 target?
⚠️ The NHS recommend adults need 1.5 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 a day.
How do we get vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products such as meat, fish, milk and eggs and is absorbed via the gut. Most people get sufficient levels of vitamin B through their diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan it can be difficult to achieve a healthy quota from nutrition alone, so it pays to get savvy with your shopping list and consider taking supplements.
‘Vitamin B12 is made by micro-organisms, and isn’t produced by plants,’ says The Vegan Society Dietitian Heather Russell. ‘It’s essential for any vegan to make sure that they’re getting enough vitamin B12 from either a supplement or fortified foods, which include dairy alternatives, breakfast cereal, dairy-free spreads and yeast extract.’
The following groups of people are advised to eat fortified foods and take supplements to top up their B12 levels:
- Strict vegetarians and vegans.
- People over 50.
- Pregnant women.
- Diabetics who take metformin.
- If you take medications such as omeprazole or ranitidine to suppress stomach acid.
- If you have undergone weight-loss surgery or have a condition that interferes with the absorption of food.
Am I vitamin B12 deficient?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms, which can easily be overlooked. If you have any of the following symptoms or you are concerned you might be vitamin B12 deficient, visit your GP:
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling faint
- Pale skin with a yellow tinge
- Mouth ulcers and sore red tongue
- Strange sensations of numbness or tingling in the hands, legs and feet
- Difficulty thinking and reasoning or memory loss
- Changes in vision
How can I boost my vitamin B12 levels?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it will get washed out of the body quickly. If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to eat breads, cereals or other grains that have been fortified with vitamin B12.
You can also increase your vitamin B intake with a well formulated supplement. A mild B12 deficiency can be corrected by taking a vitamin B complex that contains all the B vitamins.
🔹 Try Alive B complex soft jells which also contain vitamin C and are suitable for vegetarians.
🔹 If you are following a vegan diet or need to increase your levels of B12 then you can take use a B12 oral spray, that is formulated to absorbed directly in the bloodstream, bypassing the gut. Try BetterYou Boost B12 Oral Spray, which is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
🔹 If you have been diagnosed with Pernicious anaemia, because your body can’t absorb enough vitamin B12 then your doctor may prescribe vitamin B12 injections. These are given every two or three months as a maintenance treatment.
Food rich in vitamin B12
If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, we recommend you take a vitamin B12 supplement, and also add the following foods to your diet:
- Fortified Cereal: Some cereals made with wholegrain oats or bran are fortified with vitamin B12 and can provide about 30 per cent of your daily value in just one serving.
- Shitake mushrooms: Certain fungi, such as dried shiitake mushrooms, contain significant levels of B12.
- Greek yogurt: One for the vegetarians, like milk, Greek yogurt packs plenty of protein and B12 (1.3 micrograms per cup).
- Tempeh: Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh that contains certain types of bacteria, such as Citrobacter freundii and Klebsiella pneumoniae are ideal.
- Eggs: A great source of B12 for vegetarians, as they can easily go in salads, soups and stir fries or as an omelette.
- Nori (seaweed): Purple-coloured sheets of nori are packed with vitamin B12, so add sushi rolls or snacks made with nori to your diet.
- Nutritional Yeast: As its name suggests, it provides plenty of nutritional value from protein to iron and it’s fortified with B12. You can sprinkle nutritional yeast over mixed greens, soups, roasted vegetables, pasta, or even popcorn.
What is pernicious anaemia?
Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the small intestine, after it has combines with a protein called an intrinsic factor. Sometimes, a lack of the intrinsic factor in the small intestine can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency; this is referred to as Pernicious anaemia.
It is not unknown what causes pernicious anaemia, but it seems to be more common in people with a family history of autoimmune diseases, thyroid gland problems, diabetes or surgery on their stomach or intestine. Vitamin B12 can be given as an injection to people with Pernicious anaemia. Visit your GP if you are concerned.