Vitamin B12 – Not Just for Vegetarians
Posted on 07 August 2014 by Leonie Satori
Vitamin B12 includes the free vitamin cyanocobalamin, and active coenzymes such as methylcobalamin, it is a vitamin with a complex structure containing the mineral cobalt. It is believed that all vitamin B12 compounds are synthesized exclusively by bacteria, fungi and algae, and animals such as cows and sheep obtain this nutrient from bacterial synthesis in their stomach or from the soil they ingest while eating. For us humans, vitamin B12 is primarily sourced through animal foods, however, some plant based foods such as fermented tempeh, sauerkraut and foods such as spirulina can contribute to small amounts of vitamin B12 in a plant based diet.
The absorption of vitamin B12 begins in the stomach, where our natural digestive secretions split off the B12 from the bonds that attach it to food. The vitamin B12 then binds to intrinsic factor to allow for absorption in the lower part of the small intestine. Proper absorption of vitamin B12 can be disrupted in numerous ways including inadequate digestive secretions, the presence of certain pathogens in the digestive system or certain prescription medications. People with malabsorption syndromes of any kind have an increased need for vitamin B12, as do those with Crohn’s disease, reduced pancreatic secretions, or bacterial infections in the digestive tract. The vitamin B12 in foods is also affected by heat, and a diet high in fat, protein, coffee, alcohol or vitamin C can also affect the way that vitamin B12 is utilized in the body.
Although required in very small amounts, vitamin B12 is needed for many different functions in the body including the synthesis of DNA, for the manufacture of normal red blood cells and for proper nerve function. Deficiency of vitamin B12 is commonly associated with low energy, depression and memory loss. Vitamin B12 also works together with folate, choline and vitamin B6 to control the amount of homocysteine in the blood, making vitamin B12 an essential nutrient for maintenance of the cardiovascular system. It is believed that the body can store as much as three to five years of vitamin B12 in the liver, so deficiency signs and symptoms can be gradual and difficult to notice, particularly in the elderly.
Plant food sources of vitamin B12 include spirulina, chlorella and sea vegetables. Fermented foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut and unpasteurized miso can also provide trace amounts of vitamin B12. Vegetarians are also known to obtain small amounts of vitamin B12 from alfalfa and mung bean sprouts, comfrey and turnip leaves.
Although the preferred option is to obtain all nutrients through a wholefood plant based diet, it is often important to supplement the diet with vitamin B12 drops or tablets to ensure maintenance of adequate vitamin B12 levels. Due to the complicated processes involved with absorption through the digestive tract, sublingual B12 supplementation is usually more effective than tablets and not all vitamin B12 supplements are created equal.
In our dispensary we now stock the activated or methyl form of vitamin B12 supplement in drops and sublingual tablets. We have recently found an excellent quality vegan methylcobalamin supplement – Liposomal B12 containing both folate and choline in a format that bypasses the digestive system and transports the vitamin B12 directly into the bloodstream. View our vitamin B12 supplements here or visit our health store and clinic to discuss your specific health and nutrient needs.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for quality professional advice. Please contact our clinic or your health professional for more information on what is suitable for your individual health needs.