Home Lifestyle Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency that you may not know

Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency that you may not know


Vitamin B12 deficiency affects approximately 15–28% of people and can be exacerbated by autoimmune conditions, certain medications, strict vegetarian diets and ageing.

Plants do not naturally contain vitamin B12. Picture: Sarah Chai/ Pexels

EMBRACING a vegan lifestyle is not just a dietary choice; it’s a profound commitment to compassion, environmental sustainability and personal well-being.

Veganism represents a transformative way of living that extends beyond the mere avoidance of animal products – it embodies a philosophy of respect for all living beings and the planet we call home.

At its core, veganism encourages a plant-based diet free from animal-derived ingredients, such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey.

This dietary shift not only fosters personal health benefits, such as improved heart health, weight management and lower risks of certain chronic diseases, but it also reduces one’s environmental footprint by mitigating the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, individuals following a vegan diet, which excludes animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, are at a higher risk of developing a deficiency in this essential vitamin.

Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient that plays a vital role in the functioning of our nervous system and the formation of red blood cells.

Why are vegans at risk?

Limited dietary sources: Vitamin B12 is predominantly found in animal-derived foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. Since vegans avoid these products, they may struggle to acquire adequate amounts of B12 solely through their diet.

Absorption challenges: Even if a vegan consumes foods fortified with B12 or takes supplements, their bodies may still have difficulty absorbing the vitamin efficiently.

Factors like age, digestive health, and individual variations can impact how well B12 is absorbed.

Soil quality: Plants do not naturally contain vitamin B12. While some plant-based sources such as seaweed, algae, and certain fermented foods may appear to contain B12, they often contain analogues that are not effectively utilised by the body.

A recent study has highlighted a significant connection between vitamin B12 deficiency and chronic inflammation, a primary contributor to various diseases including cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects approximately 15–28% of people. Picture: Vanessa Loring/ Pexels

Published in the “Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture”, the Spanish study investigated how vitamin B12 levels affect inflammatory markers in both humans and mice.

The findings revealed a clear correlation: higher vitamin B12 levels corresponded to lower levels of inflammatory markers. Researchers emphasised the clinical implications of these results, suggesting potential therapeutic strategies for preventing diseases associated with chronic inflammation.

Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in numerous physiological processes essential for overall health. It supports the health of blood and nerve cells, aids in DNA synthesis, and contributes to tissue repair and bone protection.

Deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, vision problems, and constipation. If left untreated, it can progress to more severe conditions such as neurological disorders and nerve damage.

A separate study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) underscored the link between micronutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B12, and gut health.

The research indicated that deficiencies in these essential micronutrients can promote conditions in the gut that foster antibiotic resistance, a critical global health concern.

Vanessa Ascencao, a nutritional consultant, emphasised the importance for South Africans to be aware of the health risks associated with vitamin B12 deficiency and to take preventive measures.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency affects approximately 15–28% of people and can be exacerbated by autoimmune conditions, certain medications, strict vegetarian diets, and ageing,” Ascencao noted.

Health implications of B12 deficiency

A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to various health issues, including fatigue, weakness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, cognitive difficulties, and anaemia.

Over time, a severe deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage and impact overall health and well-being.

Mitigating B12 deficiency in vegans

She advised: “To support overall health and reduce the risk of illness, focus on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep. Incorporate a balanced diet rich in whole fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, while avoiding processed foods and excess sugar.

“Regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule are also crucial.”

Incorporate B12-fortified foods like plant-based milk, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast into their diet.

Take B12 supplements regularly, ensuring they provide an adequate dose of the vitamin.

Get their B12 levels checked periodically through blood tests to monitor their status.

Consider fortified foods or supplements containing methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin, the active forms of vitamin B12 easily utilised by the body.

The journey towards veganism is a deeply personal and empowering one, characterised by self-discovery, conscious decision-making, and a profound sense of interconnectedness with the world around us.

It invites individuals to re-evaluate their relationship with food, animals, and the planet, sparking a transformative shift towards a more ethical, sustainable and fulfilling way of life.

In choosing veganism, one embraces not only a plant-based diet but a philosophy of kindness, mindfulness, and environmental stewardship – a journey that not only nourishes the body but also nurtures the soul and fosters a profound sense of interconnectedness with all living beings.

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