In the last Mikkie’s Corner I mentioned Vitamin B12 and how extremely important this vitamin is (referred to as just B12, in this article). B12 is a nutrient needed by the body’s nerve and blood cells. It helps make DNA which is in all cells. Absorbable B12 is limited to animals’ foods and not plants, as plants neither make nor require this nutrient as it is only produced by certain bacteria and archaea. Plants only contain analogues meaning they are molecules that resemble B12 in structure, but appear biologically inactive.
B12 production and absorption
B12 is produced below the ileum in the intestines too low for it to be absorbed back into the body so it needs to be consumed. There are 2 steps required for the body to absorb B12 from food 1) hydrochloric acid in stomach separates B12 from protein to which it is attached in food. 2) Combines with intrinsic factor a protein made in stomach then moves it through the small intestine to be absorbed by the bloodstream. Without intrinsic factor, B12 can’t be absorbed and leaves your body as waste. People with endocrine-related autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes or thyroid disease, may have an increased risk of developing pernicious anemia from lack of B12. Anemia and a B12 deficiency can also occur if your small intestine can’t absorb B12 for other reasons, other than a lack of intrinsic factor. This could be from a number of factors, especially when the digestive track is compromised for any reason:
- Surgery to your stomach or small intestine, such as gastric bypass surgery
- Abnormal bacterial growth in your small intestine
- Intestinal disease, like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
- A tapeworm
*The reason Age is a factor, is because we sometimes start to lose the ability to produce enough hydrochloric acid. Many people will begin experiencing indigestion or heart burn, which is actually a lack of stomach acid, as food is not broken down properly and starts to ferment, causes bloating pushing up into the esophagus. Without proper hydrochloric acid, B12 cannot be separated from food as mentioned above, leading to a deficiency. The World Journal of Gastroenterology found a prevalence of about 15% in the elderly with a B12 deficiency. Also, **Vegans were cited as most at risk for developing a B12 deficiency, as intake can be nearly nil unless supplementing and eating foods fortified with B12 (Nutritional Yeast, cereals, milk alternatives….some fermented foods but these usually don’t have adequate amounts) as the only reliable dietary sources of B12 are animal-derived products. Even lacto-vegetarians where eggs and dairy products are eaten, still on average, consumed less than half the adult Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 2.4 mcg of B12.
Next week I will go over the dangers of a B12 deficiency and its effects including more studies on Vegans and the effects on breastfed infants of B12 deficient mothers.
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