Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and now also vitamin B12 – many different vitamins are important for the body, so you can quickly lose track of them. We will explain how to correctly recognize symptoms of the deficiency, what you can do about it, and why the vitamin is so essential.
Vitamin B12 also called cobalamin, is required by all cells in the body. It has a great influence on blood formation and protects the nervous and cardiovascular systems.
The vitamin occurs in food mostly bound to proteins. However, the body does not need much of it, adults only around 3 to 4 micrograms (µg) per day, but the vitamin is not found in too many foods, especially not if you eat a purely plant-based diet.
Development of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A vitamin B12 deficiency can affect anyone – whether you are vegan or vegetarian or eat meat and fish. If you prefer a vegan or vegetarian diet, the vitamin itself is usually missing, which inevitably leads to a vitamin B12 deficiency as long as appropriate countermeasures are not taken. Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur in people who eat everything if they have gastrointestinal problems.
First of all, there is a deficiency of a specific protein in the gastric mucosa, to which vitamin B12 attaches itself. If this protein is missing, vitamin B12 can no longer accumulate in the gastric mucosa.
Anyone who frequently suffers from heartburn and takes acid blockers for this is not doing their stomach any good either – the so-called proton pump inhibitors also promote the development of a B12 deficiency.
Equally trend-setting for a vitamin B12 deficiency are medications that work against gout or anticoagulants.
Older people, who are often affected by chronic inflammation of the gastric mucosa, are more likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to poor memory performance and an increased risk of dementia.
Since around 4000 µg of the vitamin is stored in the liver and muscles of an adult, a deficiency can only become noticeable after a few years, since this supply is used up first if the vitamin is insufficient. But at some point, these reserves are also exhausted and the first symptoms of a deficiency can appear.
No matter which form of nutrition you choose, everyone can ultimately be affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Symptoms & possible consequences of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A typical symptom of the deficiency is a form of anemia, which can manifest itself, among other things, in pale skin and mucous membranes, but also in weakness, increased tiredness, and dizzy spells.
However, there are also more serious symptoms which, if the deficiency goes undetected for too long and is not treated appropriately, can even in the worst case be irreversible.
This can damage the central nervous system. This is expressed, for example, by disturbances in sensitivity (e.g. tingling in the hands), nerve pain, weakness in movement and reflexes, and loss of appetite, but can also result in psychiatric disorders (psychosis, memory disorders, or confusion).
It is also possible that the insufficient supply of the vitamin increases the risk of cardiovascular disease or arteriosclerosis, as there is an increased concentration of homocysteine in the blood. The doctor can clarify whether there is a deficiency – however, the determination of the pure vitamin B12 value in the blood is not sufficient as an indicator, since there can be a deficiency of the vitamin in the body cells even with normal blood values.
The holo-transcobalamin II and other values of the cobalamin metabolism must always be taken into account. Above all, a low holo-TC-II value (holo = holotranscobalamin) can be the first indication of a deficiency – the transport protein ensures that the vitamin is bound and makes it available to the body’s cells.
If there are too few proteins available, the vitamin cannot be made available to the body in sufficient quantities. There is an absorption disorder that can be found via a blood test.
Another diagnostic tool is the MMA urine test, which measures methylmalonic acid, which is increased in the event of a deficiency.
By the way: The severe lack of cobalamin can lead to various secondary diseases: megaloblastic anemia (also called congenital intrinsic factor deficiency or B12 deficiency anemia) or funicular myelosis are just two examples.
Anemia is regarded as a typical symptom of a deficiency of the vitamin. More serious symptoms and their consequence can be damage to the nervous system.
Diet for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is sufficiently present in most animal foods in particular. The beef liver has the highest value with an impressive 65 µg per 100 g. Those who regularly eat beef or redfish are also adequately supplied.
Camembert and Emmental are particularly suitable for vegetarians, with a value of around 3 µg per 100 g to ensure an adequate supply of the vitamin.
Cream cheese, eggs, and brie contain an average of 1.85 µg per 100 g, while yogurt and milk only contain 0.4 µg per 100 g. The low occurrence of vitamin B12 in fermented foods such as sauerkraut or root and tuber vegetables is not sufficient to ensure a full supply of the vitamin.
So far, high amounts of vitamin B12 have been detected in certain seaweed and in chlorella, but it has not yet been fully clarified whether the vitamin from the algae can be absorbed by the body in the appropriate form.
A high vitamin B12 value can be found in innards in particular, and it is also significant in meat and fish. Vegetarians should focus on dairy products and eggs.
So How Do You Meet Your Vitamin B12 Needs?
Since the vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, vegetarians and people who eat everything should include the foods mentioned above in their diet from time to time and depending on the amount of vitamin B12.
In general, as a rule of thumb, the vitamin B12 content of innards, muscle meat, and dairy products continues to decrease.
Vegans in particular should make sure that they eat foods fortified with vitamin B12. However, it should be said that the quantities are not sufficient to cover the daily requirement.
Above all, those who rely on organically produced and vegan foods should know that it is not permissible to enrich them with vitamins.
According to this, only conventionally produced foods can be fortified with vitamin B12. In addition to fortified products, vegans should therefore also use food supplements, for example in the form of vitamin B12 toothpaste or tablets.
In addition, preparations with methylcobalamin are recommended. If the vitamin B12 store needs to be replenished quickly, the patient is given injections with a correspondingly high dose of the vitamin.
Meat and fish eaters as well as vegetarians can also get enough food if they regularly include certain foods in their diet. Vegans should rely on foods and dietary supplements fortified with vitamins.
Knowledge to take away
No matter what type of diet you choose, everyone can ultimately be affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency – whether the vitamin itself is missing, there are gastrointestinal problems or the use of certain medication is different from person to person.
Anemia is regarded as a typical symptom of a deficiency of the vitamin. More serious symptoms and their consequences can be damage to the nervous system, which can manifest itself in the form of nerve pain. Only a doctor can clarify this by determining the vitamin B-12 and, among other things, the holo-transcobalamin-II value in the blood.
A high vitamin B12 value can be found in offal in particular, and it is also significant in meat and fish. Vegetarians should focus on dairy products and eggs.
From offal to muscle meat to dairy products, the amount of vitamin B12 continues to decrease.
Nevertheless, meat and fish eaters and vegetarians can get enough food if they regularly include certain foods in their diet.
Vegans should rely on vitamin-enriched foods and dietary supplements to ensure the body is adequately supplied with vitamin B12.