What Everyone Should Know About Vitamin B12
Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash
Posted by: Gina Misra | Date: Sept 23, 2020
What is vitamin B12? You have probably seen it on the label of your multivitamin. Your doctor may have told you that, if you're a vegan, you need to take a supplement. Some websites trying to sell you products will say that 40% of the US population is B12-deficient (it might be true). If you are confused about B12 like I was at first, hopefully this article will clear it up!
On your multivitamin ingredients list, B12 is also called cyanocobalamin. That's the name for the manufactured version of B12 that is used to treat deficiencies. Popular food sources of B12 include fish, eggs, chicken, beef, pork, dairy, and other meat. B12 does not occur naturally in plant foods.
B12 is an essential nutrient. It has to be obtained from the diet. Its role in the body is vast -- it helps enzymes do their necessary work keeping your DNA and blood cells working correctly. It is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine. Adults need 2.4 micrograms per day.
Vegetarians may eat eggs or dairy which would provide them with B12. Some processed cereal products are artificially fortified. Vegans may consume a product called nutritional yeast as a B12 source. Nutritional yeast is essentially the same species as baker's yeast, just not alive. That raises the question -- if yeast contains B12, doesn't that mean yeast breads are a natural source of B12 for vegans?
Turns out, no. Neither nutritional yeast nor baker's yeast contains B12 naturally. Nutritional yeast products are artificially supplemented. Humans manufacture B12 by using anaerobic bacteria, not yeast. Special fermentation reactors are used to grow these bacteria so we can harvest their B12, and then chemically convert it into the stable version. Some of these organisms live in our colon, but it is unlikely that we absorb very much of their B12.
Plot twist! Another surprising, new food source on the market today is a rich source of naturally-occurring B12 - crickets. Yes, the insect. To make crickets palatable to Western consumers, it is sold as a powder called cricket flour that can be used in all kinds of products. It has even been proposed as part of a diet for humans living on Mars, where raising livestock would be impractical.
Are you deficient? Do you need to take a supplement or start eating cricket bread? Unfortunately, the symptoms of B12 deficiency are also the symptoms of a lot of other conditions. If you're feeling generally unwell and you think it might be related to B12, only a blood test at the doctor can tell you for sure.