Cobalamin, otherwise known as Vitamin B12 is necessary for cell metabolism. Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the Western diet (it is also very common in India). This is due to the increase in people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. The reason for this is that vitamin B12 is almost exclusively found in meat, fish, eggs, and milk. Foods that vegans have completely removed from their diet.

There are a few non-animal foods such as tempeh that contain vitamin B12, but for most vegans supplementation is the only realistic option. There are several benefits to taking vitamin B12, but these benefits should be seen in context. If your diet is getting enough vitamin B12 naturally (i.e. you eat a lot of meat, fish, eggs, and milk) then supplementing with vitamin B12 will not provide additional benefits. The following benefits will mostly help those who are most at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Vegetarians
  • Vegans
  • The Elderly

While vegetarians and vegans are pretty self-explanatory, you may wonder why the elderly suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. The main reason for this is that as you age your stomach has less hydrochloric acid in it. This reduces your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods, meaning that you need more vitamin B12 to provide the same benefits [1].

Studies have shown that vegetarians are often deficient in vitamin B12, particularly pregnant women who are vegetarians (62%), children (86%), and as much as 90% of elderly vegetarians (with vegans scoring higher across the board) [2].

 

Benefit #1 Vitamin B12 may help to treat dementia

This first benefit is a controversial one. Let us explain. One of the supposed main causes of dementia is elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood [3]. Vitamin B12 supplementation can reduce homocysteine levels, so you’d think that this treated dementia. But it is not quite as clear cut as that. The fact that people with dementia may also have high levels of homocysteine does not necessarily mean that homocysteine causes dementia.

This could be why there is currently little evidence to support the fact that vitamin B12 cures dementia. What we do know though is that vitamin B12 lowers homocysteine levels, and this is a good thing. We can’t say for sure whether taking vitamin B12 lowers your risk of dementia, nor can we call it a treatment. But considering the elderly are already at risk of deficiency, supplementation seems like a no-brainer.

 

Benefit #2 Vitamin B12 can improve athletic performance in vegans

If you are a vegetarian or vegan who participates in a sport or in the gym, you could very well benefit from vitamin B12 supplementation. This is because vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a reduction in energy and endurance performance. Combating that deficiency through supplementation or diet could lead to you overcoming the reduced energy that a meat-free diet can lead to.

 

Benefit #3 Vitamin B12 can prevent anaemia in vegan expectant mothers

There are many dangers associated with having low vitamin B12 levels while expecting, this is because pregnancy requires even more vitamin B12 than normal. While you are pregnant, your body absorbs more vitamin B12 than usual, transferring vitamin B12 across the placenta to the baby. If your daily vitamin B12 intake does not increase to reflect that (and it is already low) then you could become anaemic.

There are other health issues that expectant mothers with low vitamin B12 levels can be affected by. An increase in neural tube defects during the first trimester is perhaps the most serious [4]. If you are currently a pregnant vegan, please don’t freak out. Remember that vitamin B12 is often added to cereals and bread in the UK, and there is always supplementation. But it is certainly something to think about.

 

Final Thoughts

Vitamin B12 is an essential component of your diet, and if you avoid meat and animal products then you could very well be at risk of deficiency. Particularly pregnant women, young children, or the elderly. Finding plant-based solutions such as tempeh is a good way of combating the issue, as is fortified foods such as breakfast cereal. But a vitamin B12 supplement may be a simple solution for many people.

 

 

References

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23356638-how-prevalent-is-vitamin-b12-deficiency-among-vegetarians/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836397/

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30845641-the-effects-of-vegetarian-and-vegan-diet-during-pregnancy-on-the-health-of-mothers-and-offspring/

 

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