- Vitamin B12 is an essential micronutrient that helps form red blood cells and nerves.
- You can’t get it from plants, many vegans and vegetarians have B12 insufficiency.
- Researchers think that eating algae products may be the key to getting enough B12.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more popular and have been found to have numerous health benefits, including lower glucose and cholesterol levels. One disadvantage, however, is the lack of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found in meat, eggs, and – in smaller quantities – dairy products. But it is not found in plants. As a result, people who are vegetarian and vegan may be unknowingly missing this important nutrient.
Now researchers think that algae may be the key to helping vegans and vegetarians meet this nutritional need.
Many types of algae, it turns out, need B12 just like humans. “So if you eat algae, you get the B12 that way,” Alison Smith, a plant biochemist at the University of Cambridge, told Insider. Smith’s research focuses on how to harness the B12 benefits of algae.
Smith is part of a group of researchers and doctors at ClubB-12an organization that aims to educate people about the importance of B12, and advocates that vegans and vegetarians need more. reliable source of B12.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to get a reasonable amount of B12,” Smith said, “but people don’t know about it.” As a result, she said, people are “at risk of getting sick or even suffering harm.”
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause muscle weakness and tingling
In the United States, federal guidelines recommend the need for non-pregnant adults 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day, and that pregnant teenagers and adults should be up to 2.6 micrograms. Estimated roughly 6% of adults people under 60 are deficient in B12, and vegetarians are one of the groups most at risk.
B12 is traditionally only found in meat and dairy products if not fortified in foods such as breakfast cereals, soy products, and yogurt. “If you only eat fruits and vegetables and grains and pasta,” Smith said, “then you won’t have enough B12.”
A lack of vitamin B12 can lead people to develop an insufficiency, in which “you could do with some more, but you’re not sick,” or a deficiency, in which you’re showing symptoms, Smith said.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency include weak muscles, nausea, trouble walking, and tingling in the head and feet.
One woman with a severe deficiency of vitamin B12 who told her experience for pins and needles experienced Insider radiates through her left arm, and in the end there was tingling and weakness spread to both arms, hands, legs and feet before seeking treatment at an urgent care center.
Other serious symptoms include mental confusion and heart problems.
Algae to the rescue
Algae that there is regular B12, and could be a great source of vitamin B12 for anyone, especially vegans and vegetarians, Smith said. Algae take vitamin B12 from their environment, she said, and when people ingest algae they can benefit from B12 as well. One particularly good source of vitamin B12 is algae comes from chlorellawhich has more reliable B12 than other types of algae.
But Smith warns that you need to be careful about the type of algae you eat.
Spirulina, for example, is sometimes marketed as a source of B12 – but it is not the only source.
“Chlorella supplements have the right type of B12, called cobalamin,” Smith said, “whereas spirulina only got what’s called pseudo cobalamin — so in other words, it’s not the same. It doesn’t have the one that people can use.”
Nori is a type of algae, popular in sushi, which is also known to contain B12, but the amount of B12 it contains is highly variable – so it is not clear whether it will meet your daily B12 needs when you eat it.
Although algae can help boost B12 levels, Smith advises people to talk to their doctor. Other options for B12 include regular vitamin B12 injections, or eating foods fortified with B12.
The main thing, Smith says, is to “make sure you have a source of B12 in your diet, even if it’s supplements or pills.”