B healthy, B happy: Are you getting enough vitamin B12?

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Not a very sexy topic, right?  True enough. But you know what else is not attractive? — being exhausted, anemic, and dragging your sorry self around all day with barely enough energy to pour a cup of coffee! 

If you’re vegan and you fit the above description, your body might just be begging for some vitamin B12.  I know, it’s confusing as fiddlesticks. Should we all be choking down horse-size, foul-tasting, bright-green pee inducing vitamins each morning, or spending $5 a pop on nutritional supplements?  Do we really need to buy cereals “fortified” with 11 factory-processed vitamins and minerals?  In my opinion, no, we don’t.  (Although, if this makes us feel better as we crunch down on our fortified Fruit Loops, so be it!)  When we eat a variety of fresh, whole, minimally-processed foods, we are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals along with the necessary fats, fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates we need to look and feel fabulous. There’s just one tiny catch, my vegan cohorts, and it goes by the name vitamin B12. 

What is this mysterious vitamin? Apparently B12 is a big player health-wise; our nervous system requires it, and B12 helps power red blood cell growth and DNA production along with keeping our liver, skin, hair, and eyes glowing with vitality and health.  On board? I thought so!   

Here’s the snag: the only sources of Vitamin B12 are found in meat and dairy products and cereals fortified with B12. And if, like me, you’re vegan and have also shunned processed boxed cereals, you need to look for your B12 elsewhere.

But wait, you say, my body runs like a high-efficiency machine – I don’t need vitamins, thankyouverymuch.  Before you get all cranky-pants, here’s a list of the main symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency: depression, fatigue, dizziness, constipation (everyone’s favorite makes the list), numbness, pale pallor (I say this to distinguish from regular pale skin, which once prompted my students to joke that I was almost invisible).  This is serious, though– you can actually suffer permanent nerve damage or dementia if B12 deficiency is left untreated. I don’t know about you, but I need every single brain cell I have just to remember the whereabouts of my wallet, keys, and children.  

The good news is that vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly easy to treat. If you are having any of the above symptoms and/or have been vegan for at least the past two or three years, you may want to have blood work done to see if your B12 levels are low, and if they are, you can have injections until your levels are back to normal.  (Some people have trouble absorbing B12 and must continue getting shots indefinitely.)  If you just returned from a 12 mile run, cleaned your house, and whipped up a 4-course dinner, then please do pick up some vitamin B12 the next time you’re at the store and start taking it. The recommended dose is about 2.5 mg/day. Yours truly takes a sublingual (fancy for under the tongue) vitamin B12 supplement most days, which provides 2000 mcg (or 2 mg, milligrams).   

Be healthy and happy, my friends! 🙂

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