La vitamine B12 chez les enfants (rôle, carence, prévention)

Vitamin B12 in children (role, deficiency, prevention)

Questions about vitamin B12 intake in children today go beyond the circle of vegan and vegetarian parents.

This is due to better knowledge of the fundamental role played by this vitamin on the development of young children and in particular of their brain system and their later cognitive abilities.

In addition, the low levels of vitamin B12 in 'modern' foods, including meats, are leading more and more parents to ask questions on this subject.

What are the consequences of a deficiency in children? Should vitamin B12 be supplemented and how? How do I know if I can breastfeed without risk of deficiency?

These are many questions we have been asked in recent months.

We will therefore answer it through this article in which we will discuss the role of vitamin B12 in children, from the fetal stage to adolescence and then the means available to prevent deficiencies.

Reminder on the role of vitamin B12 on child development, from the fetal stage to adolescence

Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body, at all ages.

It is involved in particular in:

  • The formation of the nervous system and its maintenance
  • The formation of red blood cells
  • Normal functioning of the brain
  • Cell division

The role of vitamin B12 is essential for the development of infants and children and it is important to guarantee sufficient intakes throughout their growth at the risk of more or less severe deficiencies appearing.

We must also keep in mind that from the fetal stage until the age of 5, the development of the nervous and cerebral system is more important than that of the rest of the body.
This partly explains why vitamin B12 deficiencies will affect these functions more specifically.

The consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency in children

1. Vitamin B12 deficiency in the fetal stage

A deficiency of the future mother in vitamin B12 , during pregnancy, at the fetal stage can have serious consequences on certain cognitive and intellectual abilities of the child.

A study published in 2020 in the journal Nutrition Research highlighted the link between vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnant women and the consequences on children, several years later. (1)

2. Vitamin B12 deficiency after birth

A vitamin B12 deficiency in infants (0/1 year) can also occur in the case of exclusive breastfeeding by a vegan or vegetarian mother without supplementation, a mother suffering from Biemer's disease or simply poorly nourished.

A check of the mother's vitamin B12 intake is highly recommended safety on the part of the pediatrician.

The consequences of a deficiency at this stage of the child's life were highlighted in a 2017 study carried out by several pediatricians in France (2).
Doctors observed the following phenomena:

  • Anemia
  • Brain atrophy with neurological signs
  • Growth delays

Although certain after-effects are sometimes irreversible, they disappear in most cases when the deficiency is treated fairly quickly with appropriate corrective treatment.

Finally, vitamin B12 deficiencies in older children (once breastfeeding stops) can have consequences very similar to those mentioned above and disrupt their growth.

How to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency in children?

Reading recent studies confirming the essential role of vitamin B12 on child development leads us to recommend assessing the dietary intake of vitamin B12 for all children without exception.

Several situations require special attention:

  • Breastfeeding women

If breast milk is poor in vitamin B12, the child will not be able to have sufficient intake: all breastfeeding mothers, whatever their diet, must ensure they have sufficient vitamin B12.

  • Vegan and vegetarian breastfeeding women

Taking a suitable supplement from pregnancy is imperative to guarantee sufficient vitamin and mineral intake (Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin E), in addition to vitamin B12 which is normally already regularly taken as a supplement.

  • Children with a predominantly plant-based diet.

Today, there is no longer any debate on the possibility of balancing plant-based diets by providing the necessary macronutrients (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates), including in young children.

The particularity of the diet of children (and particularly young people before 5 years) compared to adults is to have very high needs to ensure their growth but with a lower ingestion capacity, hence the need to relatively concentrated foods, particularly in proteins.
However, this can easily be achieved with plant foods.

Regular monitoring of the child's weight in relation to the standardized growth curve remains the safest way to check that everything is going well, any 'dropout' must be quickly analyzed and corrected.

What vitamin B12 intake for a child?

Here are some keys to understanding our recommendations:

Since an overdose of vitamin B12 is not possible because the excess is very easily eliminated in the urine, it is better “a little too much than not enough”.

The recommended dose of vitamin B12 is initially calculated per 'kilo of body mass': for simplification, adult needs are estimated for an average weight of 70 kg.

If the recommended dose for an adult is 10 micrograms it is therefore in fact 10/70 = 0.14 microgram per Kilo.

The application of the same principle for children is more complex because their weight will be multiplied by 10 during the first 10 years: it is too complicated (and moreover useless) to have recommended intakes of such precision as 'they would be impossible to follow.

Thus, we can recommend the following dosage:

  • For children from 1 year old to 8 years old: an intake of 5 micrograms per day, regardless of diet (relative to the child's weight) ensures a comfortable margin of safety.
  • Beyond 8 years: the dose can then be modeled on that of adults (10µgr/day)

Reminder: for omnivorous adults the recommended vitamin B12 intake is 2.5 micrograms/day while it is 10 micrograms (taken daily) for plant-based diets.

To delve deeper into the absorption mechanisms of vitamin B12, you can consult our article on forms of vitamin B12 .

The Argalys solution: Vega Kid Multi-vitamins and minerals for children

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The Vegakid supplement completely secures the intake of vitamin B12 for children from 1 year old and also provides adapted doses of Calcium, Iodine, Zinc, Vitamin E and D.

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