Vitamin B12, as vitamin research discovered many years ago, is vital for the human body, but it is also rare, and the body is unable to produce it itself; it is mainly found in the soil where it is produced by microorganisms living there. Luckily, adult humans only need about four thousandths of a milligram of it per day!
However, if we don't get enough of it, we begin, due to an impaired nervous system, to experience unpleasant things. For example, we suffer a burning sensation on the tongue, tingling sensations in the tips of our fingers and toes, we feel unsteady while walking and are often excessively tired and dizzy; it can even lead to paralysis. The good news: Our liver and muscles can store up to 5 mg of the highly coveted vitamin B12. The dreaded deficiency symptoms, therefore, only appear gradually over years. For a foetus, on the other hand, a vitamin B12 deficiency in the mother can, under certain circumstances, be life-threatening.
It's a question of supply – and also affects meat eaters
There is a reason why we are dealing with the problem of vitamin B12 in the first issue of our Plant Based Food Scout column, and that is because those who are critical of a plant-based diet will always argue that humans, as programmed omnivores, have always covered their needs by consuming animal products, where the vitamin is found in respectable quantities. In addition to meat, fish and seafood, vitamin B12 is also found in eggs and milk products, which means vegetarians at least are able to absorb enough. The vitamin B12 contained in plant foods like spirulina algae, mushrooms, sauerkraut and other fermented products, on the other hand, is an analogue, which means humans are unable to absorb it directly; it is nonbioavailable, to give it it's technical term. Those who eat a vegan diet should, therefore, pay close attention to their vitamin B12 levels. But even those who eat (conventionally produced) animal products are not infrequently affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency: One reason for this is that animals raised indoors within conventional fattening systems have no contact with the soil bacteria that produce vitamin B12. For this reason, artificial vitamin B12 is often added to the animals' concentrated feed.
Research has discovered that vitamin B12 was more readily available prior to our hyper clinical age because people simply ate more dirt, which supplied the coveted trace element via the microorganisms that live in it. Logically, a healthier soil with less fertilizers and pesticides would be a plentiful source of the vitamin – but we don't recommend gobbling a tablespoon of field every two months.
If you want to know more
Ultimately, nobody can be certain that the amount of vitamin B12 in their body is at the optimum level, and it is important to consider that your vitamin B12 level could be low, regardless of whether you eat a meat-centric, vegetarian or vegan diet. It is recommended, therefore, that you take a vitamin B12 test. The so-called holoTC test uses a sample of blood to determine whether there is sufficient vitamin B12 in the body. It checks various parameters to obtain more accurate results. The concentration of cobalamin provides information on the acute supply status, while analysis of the transport protein holotranscobalamin (holoTC) provides information on the long-term vitamin B12 status.
Another long-term marker is the concentration of methylmalonic acid (MMS) in urine and blood. As this metabolic intermediate is transformed by vitamin B12, it accumulates in the body in the absence of cobalamin. Serum levels above 32 µg/l methylmalonic acid indicate a probable deficiency of vitamin B12. But we have digressed into the realm of technical jargon – the best thing is to discuss your thoughts on the subject with your doctor and check for a deficiency earlier rather than later, when the first symptoms appear.
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