This Article is About
vitamin b12
red blood cells
green leafy vegetables
digestive tracts
peripheral nerves
nerve damage
b vitamins
tap water
Importance Of Vitamin B12
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Vitamin B12

It is needed to convert the folate to its active form. Folate has special functions in the synthesis of DNA for new cells including red blood cells. Folate also helps to prevent heart disease, but it is best known for helping to prevent the birth defect spina bifida, where the baby’s spine is not properly formed, leaving the spinal cord exposed to damage. Deficiency can also cause anaemia with large red cells, weakness, digestive disorders and other problems.

B 12 works as a co-enzyme in new cell production and nerve cell maintenance. It also is necessary for forming red blood cells and it has its own special role in the nervous system, protecting nerve fibre sheaths. Deficiency of B 12 can produce many problems including anaemia, and if not corrected it can cause irreversible damage to peripheral nerves. Another complication is that a good supply of folate can mask a B 12 deficiency by keeping the blood normal but letting the nerve damage progress. Pernicious anaemia is a disease where B 12 cannot be absorbed; fatal before the discovery of B 12 but it is now very easily treated with regular injection.

Apart from B12, all the B vitamins are widely distributed in small amounts in frequently eaten plant foods, particularly unrefined cereals, and in some animal produce. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, legumes and seeds and in liver for non-vegetarians.

B12 is different and there is rather a mystery about it and considerable controversy. It is not made by either plants or animals, but by bacteria. All animal produce, being rich in bacteria contains B12. Plant foods usually contain none at all. This raises a very interesting question as to where healthy lifelong vegans get their B12 from if they do not get it from their foods. As bacteria are almost everywhere except on plant foods, could they get it as a ‘contaminant’, as even clean tap water can contain it? Or could it be produced by bacteria inside their bodies, on their teeth, or in their digestive tracts? Much speculation surrounds this topic. Blood levels of B12 tend to be lower in vegans and vegetarians than in meat eaters, but this could be because these lower levels reflect a lower need or even a healthier level as long-term vegans tend to be healthy and energetic people. Most of this research has been done in the west, where food supplies now tend to be super hygienic and even friendly bacteria are excluded from the irradiated, washed and plastic wrapped produce on the supermarket shelves.

Deficiencies of B12 are more often due to poor absorption than to inadequate intake, they are not at all rare, even in meat eaters whose intake is high. The problem is that deficiencies develop very gradually, with a range of possible early symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, irritability and vague numbness and tingling in the feet and legs, which can be overlooked.

Unfortunately, the nerve damage can be permanent if not recognized and corrected in good time.

To prevent such disaster, B12 is added to some foods such as yeast extract, soya milk and even cornflakes. It also recommended that all vegans and all strict vegetarians of all ages take regular supplements, the recommended dosage ranging from 4-10 micrograms daily. Both are minute amounts this is because very little is needed because the body recycles and stores it very efficiently, an average person having enough for several years stored in this liver.

Blood tests for B12 are rather unreliable, so it is recommended that any strict vegan not taking a supplement should have an annual methyl malonic urine test to ensure that they are not deficient.

Methyl malonic urine tests are available from Biolab, The Stone House, London,

W1W 6DB

Strict Vegetarians and Vitamin B 12

Vegan do occasionally have problems with absorbing enough B 12 and all who start on long-term, totally plant-food diet should be aware of this and get their B 12 blood levels checked each year until they are sure they have stabilized. It especially important for vegan pregnant mothers and their babies to have this test, because there are occasionally cases of B 12 deficient mothers having seriously ill B 12 deficient babies.


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Hello Martha, This is a rich and informative article. Thank you very much.

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  about 6 years ago
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