B-12 (cobalamin) is an essential nutrient, meaning our body cannot produce it so it must be obtained by food. This fact can be particularly challenging for vegans because B-12 is only found naturally in animal products. However, some foods like plant milks or grain products are fortified with b-12. For vegans, injections may be the only way to insure adequate levels of B-12. Adequate B-12 levels are important for many reasons.
B-12 is important in the production of red blood cells. B-12 helps determine the shape of red blood cells. If your levels are not adequate, your red blood cells will change shape and become unable to move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream at an appropriate rate. This decreased rate of movement can lead to anemia.
B-12 in combination with other B vitamins helps lower homocysteine in the body. Elevated levels of homocysteine has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
B-12 helps support bone health by maintaining bone mineral density. Having normal bone density is important in the fight against osteoporosis.
Vitamin B-12 plays an important role in synthesizing and metabolizing serotonin, the feel good hormone. Serotonin production is thought to be a key factor in depression. Studies have found an association with low B-12 levels and rates of severe depression.
Studies have found a link between low B-12 levels and the loss of neurons in the brain which can be associated with memory loss or dementia.
B-12 is important in energy production so those suffering low levels could benefit from B-12 supplementation.
Low B-12 levels can cause difficulties in the nervous system and red blood cells which can lead to anxiety, depression, panic and hallucinations.
B-12 is easily available in animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and milk products. For vegans, fortified cereal products are a good source.