Benefits And Sources Of Vitamin B-12

An overview of Vitamin B-12 and its benefits plus the risks of deficency.

Vitamin B-12, or cobalamin, is a member of the vitamin B complex family. It is essential for the growth of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system. It is found naturally in meat, eggs and dairy products and if those items are included in your diet, there is little risk of having a vitamin b-12 deficiency. Many researchers believe that B-12 is also in soybeans and soy food products but the form of the vitamin is such that it cannot be absorbed by humans. Those on a strict vegan diet are most at risk for a B-12 deficiency.

Vitamin B-12 is also necessary for the quick propagation of DNA during cell division. Within bone marrow, this is extremely important, as this is where red blood cells are manufactured in the body. If a B-12 deficiency develops, a condition known as anemia occurs. This is where abnormal blood cells form, called megaloblasts and can be debilitating and if left untreated lead to stomach cancer. Symptoms of anemia can include excess fatigue, pallor, breathlessness and lowered resistance to infection and menstrual disorders in women. Anemia can also be caused by a folic acid or iron deficiency, so a blood work up by a qualified doctor would be necessary to determine the exact cause.

Generally when a deficiency occurs it is due to an absorption problem rather than a lack of B-12 in the diet. Absorption of B-12 is dependant on calcium through a process known as the intrinsic factor. Glycoprotein, a secretion from the cells of the stomach lining begins the process and when combined with calcium in the small intestine is absorbed into intestinal walls. Many people who are unable to produce this intrinsic factor on their own require injections of B-12 to avoid anemia.

Small amounts of B-12 are stored in the liver and excreted in the bile where it is then reabsorbed. This process is known as enterohepatic circulation and the amounts can vary among individuals. Those dieting or those who eat the vegan lifestyle may only have this type of B-12 in their system.

It can take up to twenty years for a deficiency disease to manifest itself in some individuals if the deficiency is due to changing diets. If the problem is due to absorption problems, the symptoms can manifest in as little as three years.

Although many plants do have a form of B-12, the only guaranteed sources of the vitamin are eggs, dairy products and meats. Research has shown that many B-12 supplement products in tablet form can possibly increase the chances of deficiency as they cannot be absorbed readily and leaves the user with a false sense that they are getting enough.

A half pint of milk, two eggs or two slices of cheese can insure enough B-12 in a vegetarian's diet. Meat eaters rarely have a problem with B-12 unless they have absorption problems. Vegans, who are at the highest risk of deficiency, should be sure to consume adequate amounts of B-12 fortified soy products, cereals and yeast extracts such as nutritional yeast.

Yogurt, while a dairy product, is not recommended unless it is fortified as the vitamin B-12 is destroyed during the fermentation process.

Vitamin B-12, along with the other vitamins in the B complex is a vitamin that no one can live with out. It is important to read product levels and make sure you are including the whole B vitamin family into your diet.

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