Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is crucial in human body for various functions. The human body does not produce it, so it has to be absorbed from foods and supplements. Although, the human body requires small amount of vitamin B12 for its normal and adequate functioning. Mostly individuals above the age of 50 and those who consume vegetarian diet are deficient in this vitamin.
Functions of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for biochemical reactions in cells needed for the formation of DNA, various proteins, hormones and fats. It also plays an important role in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. It works along with folic acid that helps in various biochemical pathways and also helps transform inactive folic acid to its active form. Vitamin B12 is required for DNA production and normal cell division, so adequate amount is required at the time of pregnancy for normal growth and development of fetus. It is also necessary for the production and maturation of normal red blood cells in the bone marrow and decreased red blood cells in the blood leads to pernicious anemia. It is also necessary for the maintenance of normal gastrointestinal lining and abnormal gastric lining causes decreased absorption of various nutrients in the body. It is also essential for the development and optimal functioning of the brain and nervous system. It is required in the formation of myelin sheath (the protective covering of nerve fibers) and also in the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that help in the transmission of nerve signals between cells). B12 is also necessary for optimal bone health, as its deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis leading to brittle bones and increased risk for fractures. B12 is necessary for immunity, as its deficiency is associated with decreased functionality of white blood cells and increased susceptibility to infections.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency can affect nervous system, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system as well as bone health. The deficiency symptoms include numbness, tingling, dizziness, memory loss, depression, balance problems, confusion, dementia, fatigue, palpitations, tachycardia, shortness of breath, nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, soreness and redness in tongue with loss of papillae, difficulty walking, muscle weakness, irritability, and/or vision loss.
Daily Requirement of Vitamin B12
The daily requirement of vitamin B12 varies according to age and is same for both genders, but it increases in pregnant and breastfeeding women, being 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg respectively. Infants (up to the age of 6 months) require 0.4 mcg, babies (from 6 to 12 months) require 0.5 mcg, children (between the age of 1 to 3 years) require 0.9 mcg, children of 4 to 8 years of age require 1.2 mcg, children of 9 to 13 years of age require 1.8 mcg and individuals above 14 years of age require 2.4 mcg.
Where Do We Get Vitamin B12 Naturally?
As vitamin B12 is not produced in the human body and is essential for various functions in the body. It is absorbed from various food sources, mostly being animal or dairy sources such as fish, eggs, and meat, poultry, milk, cheese and milk products. It is present in beef liver, beef steak, ground beef, oysters, shellfish, clams, trout, salmon, yogurt, tuna, haddock, milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, ham and other pork products. Fermentation in the manufacture of yogurt destroys most of vitamin B12 as well as boiling of milk destroys vitamin B12.
Strict vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, as natural sources of vitamin B12 are limited to animal foods. Thus, vegetarians should take diet and foods fortified with vitamin B12 such as vecon veg stock, textured veg protein, veggie burger mixes, soya milk, veg and sunflower margarines and breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B12 is easily absorbed and processed by a healthy body in the absence of any medical condition. Diet that is rich in low fat animal products supplies a generous amount of vitamin B12 and is sufficient without the need of any supplement.
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