Vitamin b12 supplements: ‘People who eat little or no animal foods’ may not get enough

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The National Institutes of Health says fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products contain vitamin B12. It adds clams and beef liver are some of the best sources of vitamin B12. Nonetheless, not all foods are meat products. Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, and other food products are fortified with vitamin B12.

The organisation explains: “People who eat little or no animal foods, such as vegetarians and vegans, might not get enough vitamin B12 from their diets.

“Only animal foods have vitamin B12 naturally. When pregnant women and women who breastfeed their babies are strict vegetarians or vegans, their babies might also not get enough vitamin B12.”

The Vegetarian Society says: “For people not eating any animal products, yeast extract and other fortified/supplemented foods such as breakfast cereals, soya milks, soya/veggie burgers, and vegetable margarines are all good sources.”

It says babies will get all the vitamin B12 they need from breast or formula milk. Later, vegetarian babies should obtain enough B12 from dairy products and eggs.

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The NHS says if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals. Or you may need to have an injection of hydroxocobalamin twice a year.

It says: “People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life.

“Although it’s less common, people with vitamin B12 deficiency caused by a prolonged poor diet may be advised to stop taking the tablets once their vitamin B12 levels have returned to normal and their diet has improved.”

The health body says: “Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain.”

The NHS says if you have anaemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may have symptoms, such as:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision.

There are also some additional symptoms in people with anaemia caused by a folate deficiency. The NHS says these can include:

  • Reduced sense of taste
  • Diarrhoea
  • Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression.

The health body warns: “It’s important for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.”

It warns: “The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage.”

The NHS says those aged 19 to 64 need about 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12.

It says taking 2.0 micrograms or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Although a vitamin B12 deficiency is something that can be dangerous, people should be careful not to take too many supplements.

Both vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency are more common in older people, affecting around one in 10 people aged 75 or over and one in 20 people aged 65 to 74, says the NHS.

The NHS warns: “Taking doses of folic acid higher than 1mg can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can eventually damage the nervous system if it’s not spotted and treated.”

Although a vitamin B12 deficiency is something that can be dangerous, people should be careful not to take too many supplements.

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