Are you deficient in vitamin B12? Here\’s how to boost it

Those who have undergone weight loss surgery usually have a reduced ability of the body to effectively absorb B 12 from food.

It\’s not just the heat that could be robbing you of energy. It could be that sneaky, silent B 12, playing crap away from your body. While non-vegetarians have always toasted their intake in the animal kingdom to boast of higher levels of vitamin B12 than vegetarians, the number of vegetarians, non-vegetarians and vegans who have low levels of vitamin B12 is increasing day by day. Wondering why? Here\’s your sneak peek into the B12 guide:

The decoder

The first sign of vitamin B12 deficiency can appear on your skin, leading to symptoms including hyperpigmentation, loss of collagen affecting the nails and hair follicles, vitiligo, patchy skin discoloration, says dermatologist Dr Madhuri Agarwal, founder and Medical Director- YavanaAesthetics Clinic, Mumbai. The water-soluble vitamin is known to play a vital role in the functioning of the central nervous system, in the formation of red blood cells and therefore in blood formation, cellular metabolism, nerve function and DNA synthesis.

While foods from the animal kingdom are rich in B 12, the plant kingdom does not offer B 12 rich foods. However, discrepancy can arise in B 12 levels even if you include eggs and meat in your daily intake. Since B 12 is not produced in our bodies, it must be absorbed by our intake. The average adult requires 2.4 micrograms per day.

Sometimes, B 12 absorption does not occur due to pre-existing conditions in our bodies. For example, people who have had weight-loss surgery usually have a reduced ability of the body to effectively absorb B 12 from food. Should we also test our children (0-18 years) for vitamin B 12? It is imperative to test children for deficiency, especially if you notice telltale signs in terms of weak muscles, numbness, difficulty walking, nausea, weight loss, irritability and fatigue. These are common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency seen in children, says Dr Mohit Garg, consultant and chief, accidents and emergencies, Global Hospitals, Parel, Mumbai. A diet deficient in vitamin B12 foods such as fish, eggs and dairy products; sometimes even gastritis, digestive problems such as Crohn\’s disease and celiac disease can affect the digestive system leading to vitamin B12 deficiency.

Women go through hormonal changes all the time, especially during menarche, around menopause and childbirth. The shift tends to affect the absorption of B 12 in your body. Between the ages of 40 and 45, women tend to experience hormonal changes and a relative decline in vitamin levels. Menopausal and pregnant women must take the utmost care of their health to prevent this deficiency as B 12 takes care of cognitive functioning. Sometimes, low acid production in the belly prevents the release of B 12 from foods, especially in older adults. This makes it difficult for older adults to absorb vitamin B12 from food since vitamin B12 is a large molecule, she explains. While older adults may not be able to perceive the signs of this deficiency, it could manifest itself in the form of irritability and increased heart rate. Excessive alcohol consumption also interferes with the body\’s ability to absorb B 12. Worm infestation, certain medications, and pernicious anemia are other reasons that could cause malabsorption even though you may be bringing it into your daily intake.

Setting it up well

A normal level of vitamin B12 is usually between 200 and 800 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL). Patients with vitamin B12 levels below 200 pg/ml are considered deficient and are usually doctor-recommended injectables or oral supplements. A seriously low level of B 12 reads below 100 pg/ml. With injections and boosting supplements vitamin B 12 takes a few weeks. If you focus on lifting it through your revised diet alone, it takes much longer, says DeepalekhaBanerjee, Bengaluru-based consultant nutritionist and dietitian and founder, E-clinic 360 Degree Nutricare.

You must understand that folic acid, magnesium, and zinc also need to be consumed in adequate amounts for optimal B12 absorption in the body. Vitamin B 12 is naturally available only in non-plant sources. You need to consume offal, red meat, lean meat, fish and egg yolk to raise your levels. Most vegetarian sources are fortified with B 12, they are not natural sources. Even milk contains some amount of B12 if the source is injected the same way, he adds. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin, B 12 is washed out even with excessive washing of foods before cooking.

The impact of supplements, chewables or tablets, or doctor-recommended injections, is visible. Your skin and hair reflect the change in terms of improved suppleness and shine as you progress with dietary modifications and supplementation. Maintain an annual B-12 level check, especially after you reach age 30. In older age groups and with those who have diabetes, the doctor must determine the regularity of supplementation, adds Dr. Agarwal. Vegans and vegetarians especially need to understand that spirulina, barley and algae have an insufficient amount of B 12.

Head to B 12

Kick the vitamin easily

Eat fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts that are high in bioavailable vitamin B 12

Rich food sources include tuna, eggs, sardines, salmon

Add cashews, sesame seeds and broccoli to your diet

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