Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that most vegans become very well acquainted with. Vegans must take optimal care in planning their meals and snacks each day in order to include adequate amounts of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is exclusively synthesized by bacteria, and is found primarily in meats, eggs and dairy products. Where the primary source of vitamin B12 is foods of animal origin, vegans must be mindful of their intake-as all animal products are excluded from the vegan diet.
As we age, the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency increases substantially.
This is often due to a combination of factors. Our bodies undergo normal age related changes, which can cause a decrease in appetite, alterations in sense of taste and smell and changes in gastrointestinal functions. With age, we tend to have lower intakes of vitamin B12 due to a combination of these reasons.
Also, with age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing vitamin B12. Optimal absorption of vitamin B12 is a highly complex process that is dependent on normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. As we age, there is a gradual decline in the amount of gastric acid secreted in our stomachs. Gastric acid is very important, because it facilitates vitamin B12 absorption.
So, why does this all matter in the long run? Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to several negative health outcomes, including anemia, irreversible nerve damage and an increased risk for a number of age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, dementia and osteoporosis.
With all of these things in mind, vegans must take extra special care of their nutritional intake with age.
Elderly individuals require 2.4 mg of vitamin B12 daily. Those 50 years and older should regularly eat foods fortified with the crystalline form of vitamin B12, such as in fortified cereals or supplements-as the synthetic form of vitamin B12 does not require significant amounts of gastric acid to be absorbed.
Many vegan foods are supplemented with B12. Fermented soy products, seaweeds and algae (spirulina) have all been suggested as containing significant amounts of vitamin B12. Be sure to read food labels and check the percent daily value of vitamin B12 on the vegan products you purchase.
Of course, vegans should regularly visit with a Registered Dietician to review the adequacy of their diet, as well as with a Physician to obtain regularly blood work. Regular injections of vitamin B12 may be required for certain individuals.
Hughes, C. F., Ward, M., Hoey, L., & McNulty, H. (2013). Vitamin B12 and ageing: current issues and interaction with folate. Annals of Clinical Biochemistry: An international journal of biochemistry and laboratory medicine
Mahan, L.K, Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J.L. (2012) Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th Edition. Elsevier.
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