6 Reasons You Need More Vitamin B12 Than You Think You Do
There’s no shortage of information stressing the importance of vitamin B12. The water-soluble vitamin supports healthy cell turnover, helps regulate the nervous system, is required to convert carbohydrates into energy the body can use and ensures brain health. But if the importance of vitamin B12 is so widely understood, why is B12 deficiency so common?
How So Many Physicians Miss a B12 Deficiency
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Cardiovascular Disease
What do the above diseases have in common? Each one tends to start with symptoms that mimic those of a vitamin B12 deficiency. In fact, one study looking at brain tissue at autopsy showed that half of the people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia didn’t even have it. They had another cause of dementia, which often would’ve been treatable if detected early. (See Isla’s story here, in case you missed it.)
While these cases represent the worst-case (though, not unlikely) scenario, the truth is that many people attribute memory lapses and drops in energy to old age when it’s actually nothing more than an easily corrected vitamin deficiency.
Could Your Brain Be Starving For Vitamin B12?
A study out of Tufts University in Boston found that nearly 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have B12 levels low enough to experience neurological symptoms such as brain fog and memory loss. And since very few physicians test for low B12 levels, the condition is rarely detected.
But before you blame your doctor for not running a serum vitamin B12 test, you should know that this one might not be the doc’s fault. There is question as to whether or not testing B12 levels more frequently would even help.
In a Letter to the Editor published in the New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors discussed their finding that 22-35 percent of people with vitamin B12 deficiency have the diagnosis missed because the B12 blood test to detect the condition is not reliable!
6 Reasons You Need So Much More Vitamin B12 Than You Think You Do
Vitamin B12 is known as the memory-boosting, brain health nutrient, but its benefits certainly don’t stop there. B12 also:
- Converts carbohydrates into the glucose that can be utilized by the body for energy
- Prevents the brain shrinkage that has become a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease
- Regulates the nervous system to reduce risk for depression and anxiety
- Sparks cellular reproduction to renew the health of hair, skin and nails.
- Works with vitamin B9, also known as folate, to make DNA and red blood cells.
- Takes part in the formation and maintenance of myelin sheath, a protective layer that safeguards brain and nervous system signals.
While many nutrients, such as vitamin C and magnesium, for example, are readily absorbed and utilized by the body, the same is not true for vitamin B12. To be fully absorbed through the digestive system, the body needs plenty of stomach acid, which cleaves vitamin B12 from its food-based carrier protein, and an adequate supply of intrinsic factor, a protein found in the stomach that is required for the absorption of vitamin B12. But, as luck would have it, both stomach acid and intrinsic factor levels decrease with age, resulting in only about 1 percent of B12 being absorbed from food.
Perhaps it’s easy to see, now, how a vitamin B12 deficiency can occur and go undetected for several years.
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12 to protect your brain function and nervous system?
As elementary as it sounds, you simply start consuming more of it — and it’s wise to supplement with a lozenge or a monthly B12 shot, as well. The good news is that vitamin B12 doesn’t have a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), which means there is no intake of vitamin B12 that is considered “too much.” Your body will eliminate any vitamin B12 that is above its needs. The more important thing to do is to make sure you’re consuming B12 in the right form. Cyanaocobalamin is the form used in most supplements (it’s a little less expensive to manufacture), but methylcobalamin has been found to be the superior, most effective form of vitamin B12, especially for the prevention of neurological diseases.
But vegetarians beware — vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal-based foods such as shellfish, beef, milk and eggs. So while the average carnivorous eater should be worried about a vitamin B12 deficiency, most vegetarians have no option but to supplement with a high-quality supplement.
Here’s an excellent video that further explains how a vitamin B12 deficiency is often overlooked, resulting in long-term health damage that could have been avoided.