• Sumo

Do you ever find yourself a bit confused about all the different B vitamins? I keep losing track of which ones do what and I frequently ask why they need to be broken up as B vitamins at all (there are plenty of letters out there!), but in searching you’ll see that one B vitamin pops up as fairly important: Vitamin B12. A dozen B vitamins in and we find one of the most important bits available to the human body. But do you know where to get some B12? Or even why it’s so important? Let’s take a look and figure out why your body needs B12.

Interestingly, of all the vitamins out there, B12 seems to be both one of the most important and also one of the least demanding of the group. A scant 2 micrograms per day is all that’s recommended by the US Department of Nutrition Recommending, which is so small that it’s hard to imagine in clear relation to something else. Think of it as a “dash” or a “smidge” or “something to small you can’t see it,” but any way you slice it up it isn’t much to go around.

Yet even so, this little bit goes an unbelievably long way, being vital for the strength of your metabolism and helping enzymes break down amino and fatty acids. If you find yourself coming up short on B12, nerves start to break down all over your body, specifically in your arms and legs, your spinal cord, and even your brain. Essentially, no B12 is a very bad thing!

But where does it come from if it’s so important? Um…animal products. Yes, it’s sad but no fruit or vegetable contains any natural form of B12, and yet even as sad as this may sound, vegans very rarely exhibit any symptoms of B12 deficiency. How they accomplish this I’ll never know, though my hypothesis is some sort of mixture of good thoughts and pure sorcery. Even so, the body knows how important B12 is and makes sure to recycle it as much as possible, allowing itself to keep an adequate supply for a three-year timeframe and stave off the effects of B12 deficiency for nearly 20 years. Yes, definitely sorcery at work there.

It seems that the typical reason for a vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t actually a lack of the minuscule stuff but rather an inability to absorb it properly, heightened by age and other factors. It can get so bad that the daily recommended amount climbs to an unbelievable 2.4 micrograms which…actually that isn’t much either.

Strangely, humans can produce B12 in their intestines, as can all living organisms, but we can’t necessarily use it. There’s debate regarding this claim, but we do know with all certainty that eating dairy products or eggs can provide more than enough B12, and that meat delivers the most. And yet vegans still aren’t dropping left and right as a result of no B12, so they must be getting it from somewhere! In nature, a lot of B12 appears in unfiltered water, but we can’t really drink that since all tap water is filtered heavily and all naturally flowing water will usually make is fairly sick. There’s also a lot of B12 in the dirt, so it’s possible to ingest some while eating vegetables right from the ground, but again, we typically wash those off pretty thoroughly. I suppose if you’re really shaky for a B12 fix, plucking a carrot from the ground and only slightly washing it off will give you a bit of natural, dirt-based B12. To each their own!

On the plus side, there are a lot of companies that make meat substitutes or dairy substitutes that sell products that contain B12, as well as a lot of companies that sell wheat-based products. Vegans especially should take a look into getting their B12, even if they seem immune from the worries. Everyone needs to do something to keep from lacking B12, and luckily it isn’t difficult to meet the daily needs. However, be aware that not all B12 is the same, partly because we can’t make vitamins confusing enough. The best chance to ensure you’re getting the exact B12 you need, the cyanocobalamin version over the analog version, is to either take vitamin supplements or to eat foods specifically fortified to include B12.

So there you go, another vitamin discussed and another bit of nutrition to stress over. But really, B12 isn’t so hard to find and the cost of lacking for a short time isn’t very great. Just be sure to keep consistent and look for proper sources when you can. The goal is to stay healthy, so don’t shirk this responsibility if you can avoid it.