The Importance of Consuming Food Containing Vitamin B12
Cobalamin, more commonly known as vitamin B12, is vital for the role it plays in the synthesis of DNA and RNA(2). Vitamin B12 aids in the metabolism of fat and carbohydrates, and in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps keep neurological balance.
The Dangers of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a diverse set of hematologic disorders (e.g., leukemia, anemia and other blood cell disorders) and neuropsychiatric disorders (e.g., subacute combined degeneration or SCD, which affects the peripheral nerves and spinal cord). If treated in time, these symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency will go away. If not treated in time, these symptoms can become permanent conditions, even when the vitamin B12 deficiency no longer exists.
One of the best ways to prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency is to eat foods containing vitamin B12. However, vitamin B12 is only found in plants when the plants are rich with microorganisms. As a result, many vegetarians and vegans need to seek out alternative methods of maintaining their vitamin B12 levels.
How Much Vitamin B12 Does the Body Need?
The human body only needs about two micrograms of vitamin B12 to function properly. If your body is using and recycling vitamin B12 properly then you need to consume a small amount of vitamin B12 or not consume it at all. However, a large percentage of the population needs some regular vitamin B12 intake to maintain these two micrograms. This is usually because most people are not able to properly absorb vitamin B12.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Most animal-derived foods contain some vitamin B12. If you are in good health, you can get the two micrograms of vitamin B12 that your body needs by just eating some dairy and eggs.
However, because of the alarming number of people who cannot easily absorb vitamin B12 into their systems, many vegetarian foods fortified with vitamin B12 such as Nutri-Grain products, nutritional yeast and soy analogs are available. Tempeh is a good vegetarian source of vitamin B12. You can find out if any of these products have vitamin B12 by reading their labels.
Many sea vegetables such as spirulina and nori contain vitamin B12 analogues, which appear similar to vitamin B12. However, some researchers believe that B12 supplements such as spirulina may actually increase the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because the body recognizes the vitamin B12 analogues in spirulina as vitamin B12 but these vitamin B12 analogues don't function exactly the same.
Because so many people have trouble maintaining vitamin B12 levels, taking supplements is recommended for those who do not regularly consume dairy products, eggs or vitamin B12 fortified foods. Even those who do eat these products are often recommended to take vitamin B12 supplements if they have shown signs of difficulty in absorbing vitamin B12 or if they are of an advanced age when difficulty with absorption becomes more common.
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