Vitamin B12 is a very popular supplement for fitness enthusiasts who want to stay in their best shape and perform but do we actually need it? And what happens when we start taking B12? If you ever wondered how important is B12 then read until the end and you will discover why most Indians are deficient in B12 and what happens when you add this to your diet. And how should you take it?
What exactly is Vitamin B12?
B12 or Cobalamin is a special vitamin that is found abundantly in animal products like meat, fish, and milk. As it’s mostly available in non-vegetarian products many Indians especially vegans are at a greater risk of having vitamin B12 deficiency. However, even those who eat non-veg food can have a deficiency! It’s simply because of the way B12 is absorbed in the body.
Why do we have B12 deficiency?
1) Lack of proper diet: most of us eat what we eat on a daily basis without ever thinking about the micro-nutrients in them until we develop some sort of deficiency. And since most Indian diet is heavily tilted towards plant-based food it becomes very difficult to get it in the first place. Although some vegetarian food does contain B12 it’s in trace amounts. So, it’s not useful for most people.
2) Lack of Intrinsic Factor, which is a facilitator produced in the stomach. Perhaps our body realizes the importance of B12 and produces a special carrier molecule in the body called Intrinsic Factor (If). This binds with B12 in the stomach so the acid produced there doesn’t break it down. When it travels to the small intestine it gets absorbed into the bloodstream. However, with age with beginning to produce less IF.
3) Surgery that removes part of the stomach (or the end of the small intestine): As we produce IF in the stomach – so when we remove the stomach, we remove the ability of the stomach less to produce IF. And B12 is absorbed at the end of the small intestine so obviously, the surgery comes at a price. Apart from these, there are some other conditions that can contribute to Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Why do we actually need B12 in the body?
1) B12 after getting absorbed in the bloodstream is taken to bone marrow. There it is utilized for the production of DNA content for new RBCs (Red blood cells). Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. When you are deficient in these cells your organs don’t get enough oxygen, this condition is called anemia where the body doesn’t have enough RBCs.
2) Ever wondered how the food we eat is actually converted into energy? B12 helps the process in two ways. First, in every cell, there is a part called Mitochondria – which holds the energy currency of the body called ATP. We extract energy through ATP and B12 is involved in the production of ATP. When you have adequate levels of B12 – you have adequate levels of ATP which allow feeling energetic. That’s why when you feel fatigued easily or you don’t have much stamina B12 is often suggested.
3) Do you know electrical impulses are transmitted in our body through nerve fibers? Just like optical fibers which transmit internet signals to you nerve fibers are long cells that transmit electrical signals in the body. These cells are protected by the myelin, which also allows nerve impulses to travel faster. B12 plays a key role in the production of this protective layer of Myelin. What happens when you’re Vitamin B12 deficient? You can’t produce enough myelin. So, nerve fibers start wearing down in the body. These damaged cells are unable to provide accurate feedback to the body. So, this results in feeling tingling sensations, and numbness in the hands and feet. Apart from these, you may find difficulty walking. It also starts to impact mood, sleep, and appetite. And if left undiagnosed and untreated it can lead to irreversible nerve cell damage.
4) As we have already seen how B12 is responsible for the creation of the protective layer around nerve cells, so for those who are deficient in B12 it has been found that they have difficulty in concentration, clarity, and remembering things. As the brain is the center of the nervous system, and responsible for higher mental functions like memory, decision-making, attention, and perception. It becomes critical that you have adequate levels of B12 to perform at your fullest potential.
Ways to include B12-rich food in the diet.
Animal products are one of the ways you can add more B12 to your diet, especially the liver. Since most of our readers prefer vegetarianism, the next best way is dairy products.
However, there is some evidence that suggests that due to changing farming practices B12 in dairy products may have decreased over the years. Earlier, animals used to move freely and graze on a wide variety of grasses and plants containing the bacteria which produce B12. But nowadays, farmers rely on concentrated feed and limit the grazing time which means animals are not able to feed naturally occurring plants that have the bacteria to produce B12.
Another option is to take chemically-produced B12 supplements (Cyanocobalamin). While it works but it also releases toxic chemicals into the body.
One of the best ways we have found to boost B12 is to take plant-based B12 directly. Certain plants like Wheatgrass, Moringa, Alfalfa, Amla, & Beetroot contain trace amounts of B12. And we can extract them through Ayurvedic processes. Just one dose of the supplement gives you as much B12 as found in a half glass of milk. The best part is, it doesn’t leave any toxic chemicals in the body.
Conclusion B12 deficiency is very common, especially among Indians. As B12 is commonly found in animal products, strict vegetarians are at a greater risk of B12 deficiency. B12 is involved in many functions of the body. symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, weakness, memory problems, and easy irritability. One of the best ways of boosting B12 deficiency is to take supplements – especially plant-based supplements.