Vitamin B12 forms a core of our Cancer Treatment Protocol at Welling Homeopathy Clinic with few other vitamins about which you might have read previously on this blog. What matters is the exact quantity that is required according to your individual body nutrition type and the specific disease we are managing. Vitamin B12 is fittingly known as the energy vitamin, and your body requires it for a number of vital functions. Among them: energy production, blood formation, DNA synthesis, and myelin formation.
Vitamin B12 is generally found in all animal foods (except honey). Contrary to the many rumors, there are no reliable, unfortified plant sources of vitamin B12. One of the earliest studies conducted on vegans, from the U.K. in 1955, described significant vitamin B12 deficiency in the vegans with some suffering from nerve damage and dementia.
How You Get Vitamin B12 Deficient
Vitamin B12 is present in natural form only in animal sources of food, which is one of the reasons I advise against a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. There are many well-documented cases of blindness and brain abnormalities in strict vegetarians, resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency.
The older you get the more likely you are to have a vitamin B12 deficiency. The two ways you become deficient are through a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet, or through your inability to absorb it from the food you eat.
In India, about 80 percent of adults are deficient in vitamin B12.
Vegans and Vegetarians
Vitamin B12 deficiency is extremely common in strict vegetarians and vegans. B12 is not readily available in plants, so if you do not eat meat or animal products you are at risk.
Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, including foods like beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry and eggs.
The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs. An analog is a substance that blocks the uptake of true B12, so your body’s need for the nutrient actually increases.
Why Vitamin B12 is So Important for Your Health
Vitamin B12, also known by the scientific name cobalamin, is water-soluble. Unlike other water-soluble vitamins, B12 doesn’t exit your body quickly in urine. It is stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues. As a result, a deficiency may not show itself for a number of years, depending on your diet and your body’s ability to efficiently absorb B12.
This time lag is a serious concern, because after about seven years of B12 deficiency, irreversible brain damage can result.
Vitamin B12 is a powerhouse micronutrient for a whole host of reasons. Your body needs B12 for:
- proper digestion, food absorption, iron use, carbohydrate and fat metabolism
- healthy nervous system function
- promotion of normal nerve growth and development
- help with regulation of the formation of red blood cells
- cell formation and longevity
- proper circulation
- adrenal hormone production
- healthy immune system function
- support of female reproductive health and pregnancy
- feelings of well-being and mood regulation
- mental clarity, concentration, memory function
- physical, emotional and mental energy
As you can see from this list, your B12 level impacts a number of very important systems in your body — everything from your DNA to how happy you feel. If you think you might be deficient in this vitamin, you need to take steps to get your B12 levels into the healthy range.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you don’t have adequate vitamin B12 levels in your bloodstream, you might notice some of the following warning signs:
- mental fogginess
- problems with your memory
- mood swings
- lack of motivation
- feelings of apathy
- fatigue and a lack energy
- muscle weakness
- tingling in your extremities
One of the most important functions of vitamin B12 is building the myelin which insulates and protects your nerve endings and allows them to communicate with one another.
If you’re B12 deficient and your myelin is depleted, you can experience health problems as widespread as depression, dementia and even symptoms which mimic multiple sclerosis.
Depression is thought to be linked to a shortage of compounds called monoamines, which are manufactured by your central nervous system. Vitamin B12 helps your body make these compounds. There is also evidence high levels of homocysteine associated with B12 deficiency may promote depression.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Research also indicates a B12 deficiency may lead to cognitive problems and reversible dementia in the elderly. This type of treatable dementia differs from Alzheimer’s, however, B12 may play a role in this growing epidemic as well.
A study of over 100 senior volunteers showed older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 are more apt to suffer from brain atrophy or shrinkage. Brain atrophy is a well-established characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
A lack of vitamin B12 can result in a condition called pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells, and a larger size of existing cells.
Since vitamin B12 helps in the formation of red blood cells, a chronic lack of adequate B12 will naturally affect your body’s ability to create red blood cells, eventually leading to anemia. “Pernicious” was the adjective applied to the often fatal condition back in the days before it was understood to be caused by a lack of vitamin B12.
If you have trouble sleeping, it could be due to a lack of melatonin in your system. If you’re a regular reader of my newsletter you know the importance I place on adequate good quality sleep for optimum health.
Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” and as you age, your body becomes less efficient at producing this chemical.
B12 plays a crucial role in melatonin production, which is another reason it is important to make sure you’re receiving an adequate amount of this vitamin into your blood.
Neurological and Neuropsychiatric Conditions
A lack of vitamin B12 might also be implicated in migraine headaches and Parkinson’s disease, both of which are neurological conditions.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to psychiatric disorders, which are grouped into the following methods of expression:
- Mood disturbances … apathy, depression, eating abnormalities, and behavior disturbances which occur specifically at night
- Hyperactivity … agitation, euphoria, irritability, lack of inhibition, and motor disturbances
- Psychosis … hallucinations and delusions
Optic neuropathy is another outcome of vitamin B12 deficiency. Long-term, chronic B12 deficiency is known to cause deterioration of the optic nerves, resulting in blindness. This is an irreversible condition.
Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Diseases
Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases have a common risk factor – increased homocysteine levels in blood.
Studies show insufficient amounts of folic acid and vitamin B12 can elevate your homocysteine levels, potentially increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.
We know vitamin B12 plays an important role in DNA synthesis, and its presence in your cells, along with folic acid, helps to alleviate the wear and tear on your genetic material. Damage to DNA is a well-known risk factor for cancer.
Low levels of B12 are specifically linked to increased risk for breast and cervical cancer.
How B12 Deficiency Affects Fertility, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Elevated homocysteine levels which result from an inadequate intake of B12 are well-known markers for increased risk of heart problems and stroke. Less known is the fact that high levels of homocysteine are also very dangerous during pregnancy and can lead to complications and birth defects.
Pregnant women with B12 deficiency carry an increased risk of having a baby born with neural tube defects, a class of birth defects affecting the infant’s brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida, which can cause paralysis, is a type of neural tube defect, as is anencephaly, which is fatal
Other Common Reasons of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Age-Related Insufficient Production of Hydrochloric Acid
The older you get the more your digestive system breaks down, especially if you’ve been following the standard American diet. Specifically, the lining of your stomach gradually loses its ability to produce hydrochloric acid which releases vitamin B12 from your food.
If you’re over 50, it’s safe to assume you are not absorbing vitamin B12 at an optimal level.
Use of Antacids and Anti-Ulcer Drugs
The use of antacids or anti ulcer drugs will also lower your stomach acid secretion and decrease your ability to absorb vitamin B12.
Stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) is a crucial ingredient in your body’s ability to absorb B12. If you’re taking a medication specifically designed to reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce, your body’s ability to use vitamin B12 from the food you eat or the supplements you take will be significantly compromised.
Use of the Drug Metformin©
If you take Metformin© (brand names Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Riomet, Glumetza, and others) for diabetes, the drug may reduce your B12 absorption through interference with the metabolism of calcium in your body. Calcium is another necessary component in your body’s ability to absorb B12.
Use of Other Medications
Many prescription drugs have the potential to diminish the level of B12 in your system, including:
|anti-cancer medications||tuberculosis medications|
|anticonvulsants||birth control pills|
|anti-gout medications||cholesterol-lowering drugs|
|drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease|
According to recent research, if you drink four or more cups of coffee a day you are likely to experience a 15 percent reduction in B vitamins compared to people who don’t drink coffee.
Infection with Helicobacter pylori, a common contributor to stomach ulcers, can also result in vitamin B12 deficiency.
The H. pylori bacteria damage the cells of the stomach which produce intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a crucial requirement for the absorption of vitamin B12 –I’ll discuss its importance in more detail shortly.
Weight Loss Surgery Patients
If you’ve had gastric bypass surgery, you may be B12 deficient. The surgery often disrupts the mechanisms which aid your body in absorbing vitamin B12 and other vitamins.
Natural Sources of Vitamin B12
One of the best natural sources for vitamin B12 is certain types of seafood.
Beef and beef liver are also good sources of B12, but keep in mind grass-fed beef is highly preferable to the grain-fed variety.
Chicken is also a natural source of vitamin B12. Organic chicken is the way to go, as conventionally raised chickens may harbor antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Pork is another source of vitamin B12. It is not a food I recommend, however. Pigs are scavengers and will eat almost anything, making them susceptible to retroviruses and parasites. These bugs have a high probability of making it into pork food supplies, and no amount of cooking can insure they have been killed.
If you must eat pork, your safest bet is to eat the meat of non farm-raised animals, fed organically. However, you should avoid all processed pork products like bacon and sausage.
Regardless of which meat you prefer, keep in mind — how it is cooked can also mean the difference between a nutritious meal and an unhealthy one.
Eggs are another source of vitamin B12, and there’s a bonus: eggs are one of the healthiest all-around foods in the world.
As with all foods, how you prepare your eggs makes a big difference in their nutritional value. I recommend eating eggs raw, however, if you choose to cook them, soft-boiling is your next best option. Scrambling is the least desirable of all cooking methods, especially if you have high cholesterol.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a potentially life-threatening condition. A best case scenario if you’re B12 deficient is you aren’t in optimal good health, which is always the goal.
To review, if you fall into one of the following categories, you should investigate whether you are B12 deficient:
- You are a vegan or vegetarian
- You are over 50
- You take antacids or anti-ulcer medication
- You take Metformin© for diabetes
- You take other prescription drugs known to deplete your B12 stores (see list above)
- You drink four or more cups a coffee a day
- You have or had an H. pylori bacterial infection
- You’ve had weight loss surgery
- You’ve been exposed to nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
- You suffer from indigestion, heartburn or GERD
- Symptoms or warning signs of a possible B12 deficiency include:
- Mental fogginess or problems with your memory
- Mood swings, a feeling of apathy or lack of motivation
- Fatigue, a lack of energy, muscle weakness, tingling in your arms or legs
If you aren’t getting sufficient B12 in your diet, or you suspect your body isn’t able to efficiently absorb the vitamin, I recommend you begin supplementation immediately by talking to your family physician.
Ensuring your body has adequate B12 can vastly improve the quality of your life today, and prevent debilitating, even life-threatening diseases which result from a deficiency of this all-important nutrient.