Children require vitamins and minerals to thrive both physically and mentally. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that not only supports children's growth and development but also plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy nervous system and producing Red Blood Cells (RBCs) that help transport oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and organs.
Low levels of vitamin B12 can prove harmful for children in several ways. One of the most concerning effects includes developmental delays, which affect cognitive functions and neurological development in children. In an interaction with the OnlyMyHealth team, Dr Srabani Mukherjee, Dietician, Fortis Hospital, Anandapur, Kolkata, shed light on the same.
Why Vitamin B12 Is Important
"Vitamin plays a vital role in various bodily functions. It is essential for the production of DNA and RBCs,” said Dr Mukherjee, adding that it also promotes growth in children.
She further explained, “Its [vitamin B12] deficiency can lead to anaemia and adversely impact the development of the nervous system.”
According to the doctor, insufficient vitamin B12 in pregnant women may compromise the proper functioning of the foetus's nervous system, giving rise to various health issues.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 varies according to different life stages. For infants from birth to 6 months, 0.4 micrograms (mcg) is advised, while those aged 7–12 months are recommended to consume 0.5 mcg.
Children between 1–3 years should aim for 0.9 mcg, and those aged 4–8 years should intake 1.2 mcg.
The recommended amount increases to 1.8 mcg for children aged 9–13 years and peaks at 2.4 mcg for teens aged 14–18 years and adults.
Pregnant teens and women are advised to consume 2.6 mcg, and breastfeeding teens and women should aim for 2.8 mcg daily. These guidelines emphasise the importance of age-appropriate vitamin B12 intake for overall health and development.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Contribute To Developmental Delays in Children
A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology highlighted 14 paediatric cases of development delays or regression associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
When kids take longer to learn and do things compared to what's typically expected for their age, it refers to developmental delays. This might show up as slower progress in activities like walking, talking, or playing with others.
The study stated, "Severe to profound delay was present in 8 (57%) patients. All the patients were exclusively or predominantly breast-fed, and 10 of 12 mothers had low serum vitamin B12 levels. Three to 6 months after treatment, a mean gain of development quotient of 38.8 points was seen in 7 follow-ups."
Dr Mukherjee (who is not part of the study) told the OnlyMyHealth team, “Vitamin B12 deficiency is a primary factor in developmental delays among children. The nutritional intake of a child, particularly in the early stages, relies heavily on the mother’s B12 levels. Insufficient B12 can result in issues such as lack of concentration, memory loss, and even symptoms of anaemia during their growth.”
Discussing the risk factors, she added, “Newborns and children under one year old are prone to displaying symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. Additionally, individuals following a vegetarian diet may be more susceptible to this deficiency due to the lack of optimal nutrients in their food.”
B12 Deficiency Symptoms To Watch Out For
Some of the common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Persistent and unexplained tiredness or weakness
- Yellowing of the skin
- Difficulty breathing and reduced stamina
- Sensations of tingling or numbness, particularly in the hands and feet
- Difficulty walking
- Memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or mental fog
- Irritability, depression, or mood swings
- Changes in the colour or texture of the tongue, sometimes with soreness
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
How To Provide Optimal Levels Of Vitamin B12 To Kids
Dr Mukherjee shared, “For a child's healthy growth, a well-rounded diet is essential, comprising adequate carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.”
She added, “The emphasis should not be on a specific nutrient but rather on the holistic combination of all essential elements.”
However, if it comes down to vitamin B12 deficiency, a child should be provided with foods rich in the nutrient, particularly because the body does not naturally produce vitamin B12.
A sufficient amount of animal protein found in meat, fish, eggs, milk, and dairy products can provide sufficient levels of B12 vitamin B12 to children. For kids who are vegetarians, pulses, nuts, fruits like bananas, beetroot, and vegetables can also significantly contribute to the child's nutrient intake, the doctor concluded.