A vegan diet prohibits consumption of any animal product. This includes not only meat, but also eggs and dairy products. A vegan diet is a personal choice and is to be respected as such. However, vegans must be aware of a potential deficiency in one of our most important vitamins, which is only available from animal products.
Unlike all other vitamins, plants cannot synthesize Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 comes from bacteria that live in the guts of plant-eating animals (ruminants), most commonly cattle. Therefore, the only dietary sources of Vitamin B12 are animal products.
Vitamin B12 is critical to several body functions and a deficiency has been linked to cognitive dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, infertility, and anemia. Read on for five important roles it plays in your body.
Cell growth and division
Vitamin B12 works in concert with another B vitamin, folic acid, to help cells in our body divide and grow properly. This is especially important for our blood cells which are manufactured in bone marrow. All of our various types of blood cells start out the same (called stem cells) and as they grow they’re shaped into what is needed. This process can go haywire without adequate Vitamin B12.
Insulating nerve cells
Vitamin B12 is vital for the production of a substance called myelin. Myelin sheaths and protects nerve cells. Without myelin, nerve function is impaired. This can effect everything from sensation and reflexes to cognitive function.
Synthesis of DNA & RNA
As you’re likely already familiar, DNA and RNA are the blueprints of our cells, and therefore, our bodies. Vitamin B12 is essential in their formation during cell division. A misstep here can lead to abnormal cell division and cancer.
Turning fat into energy
Our body needs Vitamin B12 to aid in breaking down fat into forms that can be easily used for fuel. This doesn’t mean taking a high dose of Vitamin B12 while allow you to burn fat faster and lose weight. Vitamin B12 is simply one of several important factors for this normal body function.
Elimination of Homocysteine
Homocysteine is a byproduct of normal body function. However, homocysteine can accumulate in the body and cause damage similar to free radicals. High homocysteine levels are a risk factor for heart disease. Along with other B vitamins, Vitamin B12 plays an important role in converting homocysteine to a safe substance.
Vitamin B12 plays other roles in our body, such as being used as a building block for amino acids. Clearly, not getting enough Vitamin B12 has the potential to be disastrous. On Friday I’ll discuss Vitamin B12 deficiency, what foods are high in the vitamin, and recommended and optimal amounts to consume.
As a final note, if you are a vegan, make sure you’re taking a B12 supplement. (Of course, I advocate for everyone to take a multivitamin anyway). And vegans can rest assured that supplemental Vitamin B12 is not made from animal products.