As a vegetarian, you know that it can be difficult to obtain certain essential nutrients through diet alone. Vitamin B12 is one of the problem nutrients for vegetarians, as it is primarily found in animal products. Lately, you've had symptoms that lead you to think you might have a B12 deficiency. Blood tests can confirm your suspicion and supplementation can resolve the problem.
Vegetarian Diet as Risk Factor
People who don't eat meat will find it harder to get the amount of vitamin B12 they need. You can acquire this vitamin through foods such as dairy products and eggs -- and also through fortified cereals -- but B12 deficiency appears to be prevalent among vegetarians.
A study published in 2003 evaluated a group of participants including omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. The researchers used several blood tests and found a large percentage of the vegetarians -- and especially the vegans -- to have B12 deficiencies. Even the omnivores were susceptible, although a significantly smaller percentage of them were affected with this issue.
Don't Any Plants Contain B12?
Plants can absorb vitamin B12 from manure fertilizer in the soil. However, plants don't store this vitamin, making unfortified plant foods a poor source of it.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A person typically can't definitively self-diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency, but a combination of symptoms can point to this problem. You might be experiencing:
- brain fog
- memory problems
- difficulty concentrating
- tingling or numbness in your feet or hands
- unusual cravings for meat
You could have a long-standing deficiency in this essential nutrient before any symptoms become noticeable.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can be determined with blood tests. When you go to your health care practitioner, ask for the methylmalonic acid (MMA) test or the holotranscobalomin II test, which are more sensitive than the standard blood test that checks for low levels of B12.
About Vitamin B12 Supplementation
If your body has been depleted of this vitamin for a long time, taking oral supplements may not be an effective strategy to start with. Injections of B12 resolve the deficiency faster.
Your health care provider can inject you with B12 or show you how to administer B12 shots to yourself at home. Doing this at home is convenient because you'll probably need to have the injections relatively frequently. You may have injections daily at first and then switch to weekly until your blood tests are normal.
At that point, you can switch to oral supplements. You'll probably benefit from taking a standalone vitamin B12 supplement in addition to a regular multivitamin and mineral tablet. Your practitioner can recommend the best-quality B12 supplements so you won't develop another deficiency in the future.