Vitamin – B12 Cobalamin – Part 2

B12 deficiency and its effects

Vitamin B12 and folic acid or folate are needed to produce healthy red blood cells that can divide and produce functionally.  With either a B12 or folate deficiency a type of anemia can develop called megaloblastic anemia.  This type of anemia is where the number of red blood cells is lower than normal are not produced normally and instead come out as large immature cells. Because the cells are large, they may not be able to exit bone marrow to enter the bloodstream.  This is crucial as red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. When your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, your tissues and organs don’t get enough oxygen.  Ample folic acid can actually hide a B12 deficiency and this can cause serious consequences.  B12 protects the nervous system and without it, permanent damage can result:

  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Difficulty walking
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

Symptoms tend to develop slowly and may not be recognized immediately and may be passed off as something else.  These symptoms include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Palpitations and rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • A sore tongue that has a red, beefy appearance
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Yellowish tinge to the skin and eyes

Vegans/Vegetarians

People will give the argument that some humans and other animals that are purely vegetarian live fine without any effects of B12 deficiency.  Remember from last week’s corner, plants neither make nor require this nutrient as it is only produced by certain bacteria and archaea – plants only contain analogues that resemble B12 in structure and are biologically inactive. People try to model vegans or vegetarians of people in different parts of the world, but fail to understand how B12 intake is obtained.  This is very important to note, as environment, hygiene and food harvesting practices vary drastically from ours.  In fact, purely vegetarian or specifically vegan areas studied in India and Iran have shown to get their B12 sources from the soil they plant their vegetables in and the water they drink.  The soil in which plants are grown is a night soil, which is human manure (feces) which has B12 bacteria in it. Once harvested these plants are eaten unwashed which have the soil still present on them as well as their drinkable water sources that are contaminated with bacteria including B12 from feces.  This is how they are saved from a B12 deficiency, but what saves them could potentially kill most people not indigenous to the area, or at very least make them gravely ill.  Interestingly enough people living in these areas showed a larger growth of microflora as their gut appears to modify the types of bacteria in them.  This could be why they can handle these additional potentially dangerous bacteria that most could not.  This is so prevalent as a study on Indian immigrants in the UK experienced higher incidence of B12 deficiency because of improved hygiene and reduced intake of contaminated food and water than their counter parts back home.  Even other animals considered vegetarian, as chimpanzees or pandas will ingest plants with bugs on them and or favour ripe fruit where insects are found.  Coincidently these bugs are high in B12. Terminate, crickets and grubs are all high sources of B12 

Infants of Vegan Mothers

According to the Harvard Medical School Vegan or near vegan mothers who breastfeed have to be very careful as B12 deficiency incidents are very high in these infants.  The fetus first obtains its initial store of B12 through the placenta and under normal conditions will have enough stored for up to 3 months.  Repeated pregnancies of B12 deficient mothers have even more chance of B12 infant deficiency.  Which brings up about long-term neurologic consequences – severe developmental abnormalities and irreversible neurological damage for these infants.

Conclusion

Vegetarians/Vegans or others with certain issues as the elderly mentioned in last week’s corner should have their B12 monitored.  Supplementation and foods fortified with B12 should all be considered.   If new to being vegetarian/vegan you most likely will have B12 reserves for up to 3 years before any symptoms arise.

Make sure to follow DEEM Health Facebook Page.  We are doing free classes for the month of May during this time of isolation.  We want to help keep you healthy 😊

Mikkie Nettles, Certified Personal Trainer/Holistic & Sports Nutritionist

Follow DEEM Health on Facebook, or contact info@deemhealth.ca

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