Vitamin B12, or cobalamin as it is often called in scientific circles, plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA (2). It also has a neurological function, as well as an aid in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and red blood cells. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to a wide spectrum of hematologic and neuropsychiatric disorders that can often be reversed by early diagnosis and prompt treatment. However, if not earlier treated, vitamin B12 deficiency can often have serious repercussions.
The best way to counteract vitamin B12 deficiency is to take in food containing vitamin B12. However, vitamin B12 is not widely available as they are usually not found in plants, not unless these plants have been contaminated with soil microorganisms. Thus, vegetarians are much more susceptible to the risk of getting vitamin B12 deficient because the food they eat is not food containing vitamin B12.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?
The recommended intake of vitamin B12 is actually very low. The body only needs about 2 micrograms of this vitamin in order to make full use of all its benefits. However, despite this, many still suffer from deficiency due mostly to poor absorption of the vitamin.
Food Containing Vitamin B12
Food containing vitamin B12 is most animal-derived foods. A diet of food containing vitamin B12, such as dairy products or eggs provides adequate vitamin B12. For vegetarians, fortified food containing vitamin B12 is also available. These include Nutri-Grain, some brands of nutritional yeast, or some soy analogs.
The best way to discover other food containing vitamin B12 is to read labels of products in the supermarket. Due to an alarming number of vitamin B12 deficient cases, many foods are now fortified with vitamin B12 to counteract the deficiency.
Tempeh and sea vegetables, such as spirulina and nori, may also be food containing vitamin B12. However, their B12 content often varies so do not rely on them as good sources of vitamin B12. After analysis, it has been found that the B12 content in sea vegetables appear to be caused by the presence of compounds that are structurally similar to B12, known as B12 analogs.
Supplementation is also recommended for those who do not consume dairy products, eggs, or fortified foods regularly. However, some researchers have found that B12 supplements such as spirulina may in fact increase the risk of B12 deficiency disease than alleviate it. This is because the B12 analogs in spirulina often compete with B12 and inhibit metabolism.