Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, plays several roles in our body, so its deficiency can appear with the manifestation of different symptoms. This vitamin is synthesized by micro-organisms, so we need to acquire it when consuming foods of animal origin that make up a varied diet.
What Foods Contain Vitamin B12 and What Causes Its Deficiency?
Vitamin B12 is mainly obtained from beef and pork, liver, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products. But it seems that only 50 to 60% of what we consume in our diet is actually absorbed by the body and stored in the liver.
As it is only present in foods of animal origin, it needs to be supplemented by people who follow a vegan diet. Vegetarians, who consume eggs, milk and dairy products, can ingest adequate amounts of this vitamin, although it is also important to be aware of a possible deficiency.
But be clear: anyone can be deficient in vitamin B12 by not getting it in adequate amounts, vegans are just more susceptible.
In fact, vitamin B12 deficiency is not just caused by insufficient intake. In other cases, you may even ingest the necessary amounts, but have difficulty absorbing the vitamin.
The absorption of vitamin B12 takes place in the final part of the small intestine and takes place almost entirely with the help of intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a protein synthesized by cells of the gastric mucosa, and in its absence, B12 is excreted in feces.
Several factors can lead to malabsorption, such as: autoimmune destruction of stomach cells, decreased stomach acid (since hydrochloric acid activates the intrinsic factor), gastritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), bariatric surgery, among others.
But the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency today appears to be inadequate food intake in malnourished people, the elderly and alcoholics.
When to suspect B12 deficiency?
The lack of vitamin B12 has megaloblastic anemia and neurological problems as major complications, which can lead, in more severe cases, to spinal cord degeneration. But in addition, there can be an increase in homocysteine, a substance that can contribute to the accumulation of cholesterol in artery walls, which we call atherosclerosis.
Megaloblastic anemia is characterized by the release of immature red blood cells, as these cells act by transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide through our blood, symptoms such as tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and palpitations may be indicative of vitamin B12 deficiency.
In addition, tingling in the hands and feet, memory loss and irritation can appear as neurological consequences, as B12 is important in the production of neurotransmitters and the myelin sheath (envelope of neurons).
Another possible and curious symptom is not feeling the cell phone vibrate in your pocket. Two researchers published an article reporting the case of a patient who complained of not feeling cell phone vibration. He had no health problems other than low levels of vitamin B12, leading researchers to believe that lack of this vitamin created insensitivity.
How to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency through diet?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also be asymptomatic and in any of these situations it is important to consult a doctor to assess the causes and seek the best treatment.
However, to prevent a deficiency due to inadequate intake of vitamin B12, it is important, if accepted, to consume foods of animal origin.
But let’s not be so simplistic. Although we are talking about a specific nutrient, our nutrition must always be perceived as the result of a dietary pattern, and not the isolated consumption of certain foods. Also because everything is interconnected, so another deficiency can affect B12 or another nutrient.
For you to understand better, I’ll give you just one example. The uptake of vitamin B12 linked to the intrinsic factor is dependent on calcium, so if our food does not provide this mineral, it is possible that we have damages to our health.
Therefore, it is best to seek healthy eating. And to help with that, I’ve separated three tips:
1. Vary your diet
Variety is a key piece when it comes to nutrition. So that your body can absorb vitamin B12 and all the other nutrients needed by the body, bet on a varied and colorful diet.
Include combinations in your diet with all food groups: cereals (rice, corn, oats, wheat), beans and other legumes (chickpeas, lentils), fruits, vegetables, vegetables, roots and tubers (casino, potatoes) , eggs, milk and dairy products and meat. In other words, eat everything!
2. eat better
In addition to varying your diet, consuming foods from all food groups, try to eat better, preferring fresh, homemade food. This attitude can also lead to a reduction in the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which should not be the basis of our diet, even though they are not prohibited.
For that, how about cooking more? In addition to being good for your health and making you more aware of what you are eating, you can meditate while cooking.
3. Listen for your hunger and satiety signals
Although the importance of eating everything and giving preference to better quality food is clear, you may be wondering about the quantities.
Regarding vitamin B12, an intake of about 2.4 mcg is recommended, an amount easily acquired by a fresh and homemade diet. But you don’t need to stick to that number. If you don’t have any health conditions that could lead to a deficiency, it’s best to listen for the signs of satiety and eat the amounts your body is dictating.
That’s right: our bodies are always sending out information. When he’s needing fuel, his belly rumbles and we can be a little listless. At that point, honor your hunger, help yourself, eat slowly and enjoy the meal until you feel satisfied, that is, until you realize you’ve eaten enough, without getting too full or hungry. This way, you will likely ingest the nutrients your body needs.
Finally, do not hesitate to look for a doctor if you experience any symptoms indicative of vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as a professional nutritionist, who can, together with you, contribute to the search for a better diet, in addition to helping in your relationship with food.