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B12 Deficiency, Symptoms, Sources [Vegan & Vegetarian]

Frequent spells of fatigue, irritability, mouth sores, muscle cramps, poor hair growth, and eye vision are all symptoms of B12 deficiency. The micronutrient is essential for a healthy liver, hair, skin, and eyes. 

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. But does that mean you cannot source this crucial vitamin? Well, not at all. In fact, there are some ways to boost your b12 levels. We will explore them below.

vegetarian b 12 sources

Vitamin B12 Importance

Vitamin B 12 is integral to metabolism and cell functioning. It supports the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids.  If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then you could be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because there are a few sources of the essential vitamin. 

A long-term deficiency poses a high risk of permanent damage to the brain. It could even damage the central nervous system. For someone who does not eat meat, it is important to incorporate foods that supplement your diet with cobalamin or B12.

All B vitamins are essential to convert food into fuel for energy and help the body metabolize proteins and fats. Additionally, they are essential to keeping your skin, eyes, liver, and hair healthy, besides supporting the functioning of your nervous system.

  • Essential to the health of blood and nerve cells 
  • Important for  DNA - the genetic material in your cells
  • Useful to prevent megaloblastic anemia
  • May help boost memory 
  • Important for cardiovascular health
  • Plays a role in blood cell formation and prevention of anemia
  • May prevent birth defects and miscarriage
  • May support bone health
  • May boost hair growth by improving red blood cells in the body, which promote oxygen flow
  • May promote eye health, vision and prevent macular degeneration
  • Supplementation may improve mood, signs of depression and anxiety
  • May boost energy levels and help fight fatigue

How is B12 Synthesized in the Body?

Hydrochloric acid in the stomach plays a crucial role in separating the vitamin from the protein it’s attached to. 

Then vitamin B12 (sans the protein) combines with the intrinsic factor, which is a protein made in your stomach, for absorption. 

When you take Vitamin B12 in dietary supplements, there is no protein attached, which eliminates the need for the first step when hydrochloric acid in the stomach becomes active. 

But B12 supplements need intrinsic factor for absorption. This might be a problem in people with megaloblastic anemia or those who have had stomach surgery. People with severe gastritis might not be able to absorb b12 if their stomach does not produce much hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor.

Are you deficient in B12?

You have a vitamin B12 deficiency if:
  • You feel too tired or weak. 
  • You have pale skin.
  • You experience heart palpitations
  • You suffer from a loss of appetite
  • You experience sudden weight loss without reason
  • You are not getting pregnant
  •  Your extremities feel numb or tingly
  • You experience problems with balance
  • You suffer from mental health disorders, such as dementia, depression, confusion, memory loss, mouth ulcers or sores

Who is at risk of B12 Deficiency?

If you take gastric medications, such as gastric juice inhibitors, including omniprazol, ranitidine, you are at risk of deficiency of b12 because these drugs interfere with the vitamin's absorption in the stomach by slowing down the release of gastric juice, also known as hydrochloric acid, which is essential to separate B12 from its protein.

Unless your body is able to use the vitamin properly, vitamin B12 cannot help. 

Pernicious anemia is a condition in which the intestines are not able to absorb vitamin B12. Proper absorption of the micronutrient requires the production and release of a special protein known as the intrinsic factor in the stomach. 
Unless this process happens in the body and b12 is synthesized, your body becomes anemic. This shows up in the form of multiple symptoms, such as diarrhea, pale skin, fatigue, nerve damage, shortness of breath, and hair problems.

5 Facts about vitamin b12

1. It's a water-soluble vitamin.
2. B 12 is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, DNA synthesis, and healthy red blood cell formation. It might be important in your fight against anemia. 
3. Milk and dairy products are good sources of b12; fortified cereals also contain b12, and fermented grains are believed to be good sources of vitamin B12. This includes fermented whole wheat, millets, legumes. So your sourdough is an example. However, it is still confusing whether b12 is retained during the heating process. Remember, the yeast dies when heated. 
4. B12 deficiency raises the risk of neural defects in newborns, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and mouth ulcers.
5. A person deficient in B12 is at a high risk of depression, mood disorders, Alzheimer's, and dementia. 

I have come across a research study that claims fermented fenugreek leaves develop b12.
The detailed research report explains how lactic fermented fenugreek leaves develop vitamin b12.

Does Fermentation Produce B12?

If B12 deficiency scares you, then you are looking for vegetarian sources of the vitamin, which is a micronutirent in itself. Here are a few questions that might be troubling you!

Do fermented veggies have vitamin B12? 

Well, research finds only traces of B12 in fermented Korean veggies, such as kimchi, sauerkraut. For B12 production, certain lactic acid or propionic bacteria must play an active part in fermentation.

What should I eat to boost my vitamin B12 levels? 

Unless you are a vegan, B12 sources are aplenty. This includes meat, fish, milk, egg, cheese, mushrooms, and fortified breakfast cereals.

How did humans get B12 before meat? 

How can vegetarians and non-animal eaters improve vitamin B12 naturally? Or what are the natural sources of B12?

Which vegan fermented foods are rich in B12?

Research finds that the fermentation of wheat bran produces P. freudenreichii bacteria, thus producing a high level of vitamin B12. If pH is controlled during fermentation, the level of vitamin B12 is further enhanced. 

Is fermented rice a probiotic? Is fermented rice good for your health?

Rice bran registered the highest production of b12 during fermentation. It was closely followed by buckwheat bran. Fermented brown rice has been proven to produce a great amount of cobalamin, which helps prevent fatigue. 

Prebiotics- raisins , promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut
In Odisha, farmers and manual labor are fully dependent on fermented rice or pakhala, which is their main meal and keeps them feeling full, satiated, and active for longer. So much so that they are able to thrive scorching rays of the sun during hot summer days working in farms.

Fermented brown rice produces a considerable amount of vitamin B12, which helps prevent fatigue. 
That means fermentation could be the key to improving b12 levels for vegans and vegetarians. 


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