The most controversial member of the B-Complex family is Vitamin B12. Even though the full chemical structure was identified only in the late 1960s, it had already attracted two Noble Prizes for its research. The peculiarity of this Vitamin lies in the fact that unlike most vitamins this Vitamin B12 is neither produced by plants nor animals. The exclusive source of this vitamin are the bacteria, mold, yeast and algae.

What is Vitamin B12 and how is it important?

Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin is a water soluble vitamin which mainly assists in the normal functioning of the nervous system, the brain and also for the formation of blood. Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins. It is a vital nutrient which keeps the blood cells and the body’s nerve healthy. It also helps in making DNA- the genetic material present in all cells. Vitamin B12 is not only essential for the synthesis and regulation of fatty acids, but it is also vital for energy production. Vitamin B12 plays a major role in maintaining the health of the nerve cell as well as the nervous system. It also produces the red blood cells and folic acid.

How much of Vitamin B12 is essential for the body?

The intake amount of Vitamin B12 which is essential for the body is 2.4 mg for adults, 2.6 mg for pregnant women and 2.8 mg for breastfeeding women.

If the diet of a person consists of dairy products, fish or meat then the person is able to get enough Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is not found in fruits, grains and vegetables.

What are the natural sources of Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in wide variety of animal foods and is also added to some fortified foods. The other natural sources of Vitamin B12 are:

  • Beef liver - the best source of Vitamin B12

  • Eggs, milk, meat, fish and other dairy products also contain Vitamin B12

  • Breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast also contain Vitamin B12 as these food products are fortified with Vitamin B12.
What are the symptoms attributed to lack of Vitamin B12?

Deficiency in Vitamin B12 can cause many problems like pernicious anaemia, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, unusual weight loss and megaloblastic anaemia. Nerve problems such as tingling, muscle weakness, confusion, tender calves and numbness in the hands and feet can also occur. The other symptoms include:

  • Problem with balance

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Confusion

  • Poor memory

  • Soreness of the mouth or tongue
Which disease is caused due to Lack of Vitamin B12 deficiency?

Anaemia is caused to due lack of Vitamin B12. Pernicious anaemia is condition where the body cannot absorb Vitamin B12. In pernicious anaemia the level of red blood cells goes down more than normal and haemoglobin count in each red blood cell reduces too. Vitamin B12 is required to make new cells in the body like the red blood cells which are made every day.

How does pregnancy get affected due to deficiency in Vitamin B12?

Women should increase their intake of Vitamin B12 during pregnancy as the body requires it during conception. Women with Vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy are at a higher risk of giving birth to a baby with disability, a fatal birth defect, or even may develop health problems of their own. A strict diet including foods with Vitamin B12 should be consumed by women of childbearing age or during pregnancy to avoid health problems and birth defects. Women with B12 deficiency during early pregnancy are 5 times at higher risk to have a baby with neural tube defects, like spina bifida, in comparison with women with high levels of Vitamin B12.

Which measures can avoid deficiency in Vitamin B12?
  • Eat a varied diet which has good natural sources of Vitamin B12 like fish, liver and eggs

  • Vegetarians should take Vitamin B12 supplements to avoid deficiency

  • Extra care should be taken if a family member has pernicious anaemia

  • Pay extra attention to the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency if you have undergone a surgery in the stomach or small intestine
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