People following a vegetarian diet need to pay attention to shortcomings of vitamin B12, a quite creepy issue that, on the long run, may have significant impacts on their health.
Lack of Vitamin B12
I know what I am talking about, as I am currently under care for a lack of vitamin B12. This deficit can be easily detected with regular blood analyses, however, at the same time it may be tough to diagnose. That’s because, in particular at the beginning, the lack of this vitamin can be completely asymptomatic.
On the other hand, going forward, such a deficiency may induce into problems, also relatively serious ones.
In my case, having read in a couple of places about tis correlation between vegetarian diet and lack of B12, I fixed an appointment with my GP. She prescribed some standard analyses and it turned out that I had a very low level of such vitamin.
Due to this, I had to go through a 6-months treatment, mainly consisting in injections; now, B12 injections are quite notorious, because they hurt.
Right after the shot, the area around kind of gets contracted and hard, and it burns; but it’s OK after a while.
It is important to know that this is the only vitamin our body is able to stock up on. In particular, it’s our liver that takes care of accumulating it and releasing it when needed. Needless to say, if this stock doesn’t get replenished, it drains out after some time.
That explains why people starting a vegetarian diet may not encounter any issues due to lack of B12, even for a few years after they stop animal consumption, as they run on the B12 accumulated in their liver. Once those are over, troubles start.
What is B12 and what is it for
Vitamin B12 is very important for our body. It is also known as cobalamin, as it contains atoms of cobalt or red vitamin, due to its color. B12 performs different tasks, among which it helps to generate new red blood cells and to promote their growth.
It is crucial for the health of our neural system and for the metabolism of sugars and fat and carbs.
In short, we can’t do without.
Unfortunately, because of the delayed onset of its symptoms, it may happen to discover a deficiency when it is already too late. Lack of B12 can cause troubles to the neural system, depression, issue with digestion, anemia, hormonal issues and, in aging subjects, can even lead to dementia. This being the situation, it’s better to be safe than sorry and reach out to your doctor, if you have a doubt.
Not only vegetarians are at risk
Our body does not produce any B12, so we need to acquire it from the outside, mainly through food.
Foodstuff such as seafood, meat, dairy and eggs all contain significant quantities of B12, often enough to match recommended intakes. Unfortunately for vegetarians, that is not the case for vegetables. And it is not the case for seaweed either, although somebody may say the opposite, as they contain only minimal quantities.
That means that vegetarians, even when they eat large quantities of eggs and cheese, are at risk. The Swiss federal commission for nutrition recommends to vegetarians to monitor their B12 levels and clearly states that food supplement are indispensable for vegans.
With reference to several nutrients, including vitamin B12, they state that, although normally a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet is capable of ensuring a sufficient intake of those nutrients (including B12), it is nonetheless necessary to pay attention to the fact that the intake matches the demand, in certain periods of life.
It is, therefore, needed to follow a well-balanced diet, but according to the Commission, in some cases this might not be enough.
Indeed, even omnivores may suffer from a deficit of B12, as the ability of our body to absorb it may be impaired by certain circumstances, such us the assumption of certain medicaments, or the presence of certain pathologies or simply by a reduced absorption capability of our body, which is relatively frequent in people aged 50 and more.
In this sense, for people over 50, the USDA (US Agriculture Department) recommends food supplements with B12, irrespective of their diet.
Food supplements are crucial
The first thing to do then, if we have a doubt about our B12 levels, is to speak to a doctor and see if it makes sense to have our blood analyzed.
Our body needs between 2 and 5 micrograms/day of B12; if our dietary intake cannot guarantee these quantities, we may need to seek the help of food supplements. Your doctor would give you the right advice.
There are lots of supplements available on the market. Fortified foods are also quite common, such as breakfast cereals or juices. I am mostly relying on supplements of different brands, that I periodically rotate. At this time, I am using Multicentrum Women that contains 3 micrograms of B12 (besides other elements).
Lately, I came across a B12 fortified toothpaste produced by Sante, a company that specializes in personal care and make-up products. It’s called Dental Med, it has a light mint flavor and a salty taste, and it claims that it can help vegans and vegetarians to tackle their B12 deficiency issues.
According to the producer, the B12 in the toothpaste would get absorbed by mouth mucous membranes while we brush out teeth; here after the INCI of this product:
Glycerin, Aqua (Water), Hydrated Silica, Maris Sal (Sea Salt), Xylitol, Xanthan Gum, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Algin, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract*, Sodium Fluoride, Cyanocobalamin, Alcohol denat.*, Aroma (Flavor)**, Limonene**, CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide)
A regular usage is said to reduce or even eliminate B12 deficiencies. It sounds great, although it is not very clear how much B12 would be released and could be absorbed during each brushing, and I guess it might be difficult to actually quantify this, given that different people may use different quantities of paste each time.
A test performed by a German university seems to confirm the benefit over a sample population that used Dental Med twice a day for four weeks. It is true that the sample counted 21 persons, so it might not be exhaustive.
In any cases, I have discussed this product with my doctor; she was not aware of it, but she didn’t rule out its possible benefits. For the time being, I am still taking my supplements, btu I am going to start the toothpaste very soon.
In a few months, I will go back for another round of blood analysis, and we’ll see the results.