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Vitamin B12: What Vegetarians & Vegans Need to Know
WHAT IS VITAMIN B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is made by bacteria. Animals eat food containing these bacteria, and then the animals become sources of vitamin B12.
WHY DO YOU NEED VITAMIN B12?
1. To form and maintain healthy red blood cells
2. To form and maintain healthy nerve cells
3. To make DNA, the genetic material in cells
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON'T GET ENOUGH VITAMIN B12?
- Pernicious Anemia - a type of anemia characterized by large red blood cells. Symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, listlessness, and poor resistance to infection .
- Nerve damage. Symptoms may include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
- In infants: delayed growth and development, movement disorders, anemia
- Other problems: constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, confusion, difficulty keeping
balance, dementia, poor memory
Most deficiencies can occur because of a problem absorbing 812 in the intestine, though strict vegans (who
consume no animal products) can also develop deficiencies over an extended period of time.
Since the body
stores some 812, it can take years for vegans to develop a deficiency.
WHAT FOODS ARE GOOD SOURCES OF VITAMIN B12?
Animal products, especially fish and seafood, are good sources of B12. Foods such as unsweetened yogurt,
and eggs can provide B12 for lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegans can get B12 from fortified foods, nutritional yeast,
and dietary supplements. Fortified foods are made with the B12-producing bacteria, not animal products.
It was once thought that tempeh, miso, and sea vegetables could provide B12. However, these foods do not
contain the active forms of the vitamin. Instead, they contain inactive forms, which may actually interfere with
B12 absorption and metabolism
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. "Vitamin B12" Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH Clinical Center
Mangels, Reed, Ph.D., R.D. "Vitamin B12 in the Vegan Diet" The Vegetarian Resource Group Web site,
search for Vitamin B12
Messinaet al (2003) "A New Food Guide for North American Vegetarians" Canadian Journal of Dietetics
Practice and Research, 64(2), 82-86
"Vitamin B12" Information Sheet The Vegetarian Society Web site, search for Vitamin B12
Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets. (2003). Journal of
the American Dietetic Association, 103(6), 748-765.
Norris, Jack R.D. "Vitamin B12 are you getting it?" Vegan Health Organization Web site, search for Vitamin
B12 (This is a very helpful Web site with a lot of reliable information)