Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a key role in the development and function of your central nervous system.
All our cells need vitamin B12 to function properly but since the body cannot produce it itself, we have to get it from our diet. Because only animal foods contain sufficient amounts of vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians have an increased risk of deficiency. In fact, studies suggest that up to 80-90% of vegans and vegetarians could be deficient in vitamin B12.
In addition, experts believe that over 20% of older adults could be at risk of deficiency because absorption decreases with age. Other risk factors for deficiency include diabetes, Crohn’s disease, intestinal removal surgeries, and family history.
A common symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is megaloblastic anemia – a blood disorder that enlarges red blood cells. Other symptoms include issues with brain function and increased homocysteine levels,which is a risk factor for various diseases.
Some of the main dietary sources of vitamin B12 include shellfish, meat, organ meat, eggs, and milk products. For inspiration, check out these healthy vitamin B recipes from Daily Burn, which includes everything from grilled salmon kebabs to mac and cheese.
However, it’s worth noting that absorption of vitamin B12 is more complex than other vitamins because it requires a protein known as ‘intrinsic factor’. Because some people lack amounts of this protein, B12 injections or higher dose supplements are sometimes required.
You can find more information about taking vitamin supplements on the NHS website, though as always, it’s important to speak to your GP first as too much vitamin B12 can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Our beginner’s guide to B12 also has more on the benefits of B12 and how to spot signs of deficiency.