Vitamin B12 is probably the most important nutrient to consider on a plant-based diet. It plays an essential role in many physiological processes and ensuring adequate intake levels is very important, as deficiencies can have serious and potentially irreversible health consequences (1).
It acts like both a water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamin such that excess intake is excreted from the body (there is no set Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)), and is also stored in the liver for future use (2,3). The body’s ability to rely on liver stores to sustain its requirements is why, in some cases, it can take months or even years to show signs of deficiency, however, regular consumption is recommended to maintain good health (4).
Utilizing vitamin B12 from food requires a complicated digestion and absorption process, involving a number of enzymes and specific environmental conditions (5). For this reason, older adults and people with digestion impairments are recommended to consume vitamin B12 either from fortified food products or as a supplement (6). These free-form sources allow for more direct absorption by the body.
Vitamin B12 is produced by microorganisms and is predominantly found in animal-based products (7). It’s also present in some fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, plant-based milk and meat alternatives, cereals and meal replacement products. Supplementary forms of vitamin B12 are typically available as cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin and in doses ranging from 100mcg to 10,000mcg.
Each single-serve pack of NuIT Almond Butter contains 100mcg of vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin.
-Formation of Red Blood Cells: Required to produce hemoglobin, the main protein found in red blood cells used to transport oxygen throughout the body.
-Brain and Nerve Function: Critical in the development and function of the brain and nervous system, vitamin B12 is involved in the formation and preservation of myelin, the protective coating that surrounds nerve fibers. It is also needed to produce neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry nerve signals between cells.
-Heart Health: Help regulate blood levels of homocysteine by aiding in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease.
-Cell Division, Gene Expression, and Protein Synthesis: Important for the synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine, which adds methyl groups to DNA, RNA and proteins. The improper functioning of S-adenosylmethionine can cause alterations in DNA structure and gene expression which can lead to an elevated rate of DNA damage.
-Energy Metabolism: Required for the conversion of L-methylmalonyl-CoA to succinyl-CoA, a reaction important in the body’s ability to utilize fats and proteins to make energy.
Note: Folic acid (vitamin B9), especially when taken at large doses, can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency (8). Consult your health-care provider before taking a folic acid supplement, and inquire about a form called 5-MTHF (L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate), which is the active form of folic acid (9).
Photo Credits: Josh Nuttall, Victor Freitas, Marvin Ronsdorf