Addressing Vegetarian Vulnerabilities: Vegetarianism has many health advantages, but it can present certain health risks. Research shows that vegetarians (and vegans) are vulnerable to deficiencies in two important B vitamins: B12 (cobalamin) and B6 (pyridoxine).
If ever a group of vitamins could be considered “the Force” within you, it’s the B-Complex group, which synergistically supports energy production.
Individually, each B vitamin – B1 (thiamin), B2(riboflavin), (niacin B3), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B12, biotin, and folate are vital to different physiological processes throughout the body.
Specifically, B12 is essential for healthy nerve cell communication while B6 is necessary for hormone regulation and breaking down dietary fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
It’s difficult to obtain sufficient, high-quality amounts of food-based B6 and B12 when meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are eliminated.
B12 is not present in plants, so vegetarians usually need to take a supplement. Some plants contain a “glycosolated form” of B6 that is not absorbed easily or used efficiently in the body. The aging process, a vegan diet, stress, certain medications, and illness also can alter your body’s ability to utilize vitamins taken from food.
Signs of B12 deficiency include extreme fatigue, sadness, irritability, loss of appetite, anemia, lower immunity, and increased risk for heart disease.
B6 deficiency is associated with PMS, depression, and insomnia; it can lead to nerve damage in the hands and feet, which is usually reversible with proper supplementation.
Your physician can order a blood test to determine if a vitamin deficiency exists and work with you to identify the appropriate supplement (vitamins, injection or nasal gel, or sublingual tablet), form of that supplement and dietary improvements for your health needs.
You can also try an at-home, self-collected test such as this one. Some of my favorite B-replenishing vitamins include B12 from Vital Nutrients, and this high potency optimized folate (B9) from Life Extension.