Deficiency of some of the vitamins like B12, which plays a vital role in building DNA, can cause serious health problems, says Pavithra N Raj, Dietician Executive, Columbia Asia Hospital, Yeshwanthpur, as she examines in detail how this vitamin ensures proper functioning of the body and brain.
Vitamin B12 is vital to ensure proper functioning of brain, nerve tissues and red blood cells. If a person is suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency, the production of red blood cells in the body decreases which can lead to anaemia, psychological problems like depression paranoia, dementia and other behavioural problems. The risk of B12 deficiency increases with age.
Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods. But, sometimes the presence of B12 analog in them is confused for vitamin B12. These analogs block intake of the vitamin, further increasing the need for true B12. Therefore, it is important to consume animal and dairy products to maintain appropriate levels of the vitamin.
Main sources of vitamin B12 are animal products like fish, meat, eggs, milk and milk products. Generally, vegans who don’t eat animal products at all, are most prone to Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vegetarians and pregnant women should ensure that they eat enough dairy products, fortified grains or multivitamins to meet B12 needs. If the intake of vitamin B12 is not proper during pregnancy, it can lead to developmental delays and weakness in the child born.
People of different age groups require different amounts of the vitamin B12. Hence, depending upon the body requirement, age and medications B12 levels should be maintained. Certain medical conditions like atrophic gastritis, crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacteria growth or immune system disorders can also lead to B12 deficiency.
Regular consumption of acid- reducing drugs can also contribute to B12 deficiency. This is because the acid in stomach helps to break down animal proteins that have vitamin B12. Since, the body doesn’t make vitamin B12 one needs to get it from animal based products to avoid serious consequences. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency develop gradually but can worsen if the condition is left untreated.
Signs and symptoms to know when you are not getting enough vitamin B12:
• Weakness and extreme fatigue
• Changes in the way one walks
• Tingling in feet and hands
• Depression or irritability
• Mouth ulcers, sore or red tongue
• Changes in behavioural patterns with decline in mental ability
• Disturbed vision
Daily recommended vitamin B12 amount for different age groups
Age (years) Daily amount of B12 (micrograms)
1-3 0.9 mcg
4-8 1.2 mcg
9-13 1.8 mcg
14 and older 2.4 mcg
Pregnant women 2.6 mcg
Breast-feeding women 2.8 mcg