If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B12, it is indeed very important – and you may very well not be thinking about it. One reason you aren’t thinking about it is that we tend to fall in (and out!) of love with one nutrient at a time (such as vitamin C, beta carotene, lycopene and so on), and vitamin B12 isn’t the nutrient du jour. But the other reason you may not be thinking about it is … because you can’t. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can limit your ability to think clearly about anything!
What is Vitamin B12 and Why Is It So Essential?
Like all vitamins, B12 is an organic compound, made from carbons (as opposed to minerals, which are inorganic), and essential for our normal metabolic function and health. Also, like most vitamins, B12 plays a wide variety of roles in our metabolism. The short list of important effects B12 has on your health includes these:
- Vitamin B12 is essential for the manufacture of red blood cells; a deficiency leads to a characteristic kind of anemia
- Vitamin B12 is needed to support the normal function of nerve cells, and to manufacture myelin, the insulating material that surrounds some of our nerve cells and speeds neural transmission
- Vitamin B12 is required for the replication of DNA
Each of these effects is obviously quite important, but note the third one in particular. When B12 is deficient, our DNA cannot replicate normally – meaning we can’t generate new, healthy cells. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency can mimic all of the effects of aging.
Manifestations Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Common manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency include weakness, numbness and tingling, fatigue, dizziness, swelling and irritation of the mouth and tongue, and irritability. Anemia can develop, as noted, but a high intake of folate can compensate for a deficiency of vitamin B12 and prevent anemia.
The most serious manifestation of B12 deficiency is impaired brain function, due to the effects of B12 on nerve cells. Advanced B12 deficiency causes dementia severe enough to resemble Alzheimer’s disease. Generally, though, the dementia caused by B12 deficiency is completely reversible with supplementation. While folate can prevent B12-deficient anemia, it cannot prevent the dementia – only B12 itself can do that job.
Difficulties With Vitamin B12 Absorption
Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods (and fortified cereals), so vegans are vulnerable to deficiency. But the most important cause of deficiency has to do with the unique way B12 is absorbed. To get into the bloodstream, B12 must be escorted by a protein called intrinsic factor, produced by cells of the stomach. Many disorders of the stomach, such as gastritis, particularly common after age 50, can interfere with the production of intrinsic factor. This condition is called pernicious anemia.
Medications that affect the stomach – such as aspirin, antacids and proton-pump inhibitors – can also interfere with intrinsic factor production and result in B12 deficiency. The commonly used diabetes medication, metformin (Glucophage), can do so as well.
For garden-variety B12 deficiency, due to inadequate intake from food or supplements, oral supplementation suffices to fix the problem. But pernicious anemia cannot be treated with oral B12, because the lack of intrinsic factor will prevent absorption. The appropriate treatment is vitamin B12 injections your doctor must provide.
In some cases, genetic mutations can limit the ability to metabolize B12 as well, in which case you will need to get the active form, called methylcobalamin, instead of the more common cyanocobalamin.
Health-care professionals are, of course, taught to be on the lookout for B12 deficiency, particularly in patients over age 50 with suggestive signs or symptoms. But health care is at its best when both clinician and patient are on the ball! I encourage an empowered, assertive role for all patients.
If you are at all concerned about the possibility of B12 deficiency in yourself, or a loved one, ask … before you forget the question!
Noone ever mentions too n uch B-12... my bloodwork shows my B-12 is over 2000 by quest labs. Can anyone address this?
Oops, tidbit, I read in several articles Bob Hope took Surbex-T for 25 yrs in 1968 and every year on his birthday, he'd give credit to his good health and remember he passed just shy of 100.
I've taken Vitamin-B Complex since 1968, used to be ABBOTT's SURBEX-T, until I could no longer find it. It was prescribed by my OB-GYN Dr. Wm Strozier; I had low blood pressure and a lot of stress. Then this year, Humana nurse suggested liquid Vitamen B-Complex by Nature's Bounty. Has picked me up and made new woman out of me.
Melissa Martin it's about What we Consume in our diet, But sometimes you don't Eat equivalent to doses so therefore we have to Supplement.
We are vegetarians(not vegans) and took a supplement everyday. Recently during blood work found out my husband's B-12 levels were too high and doc advised to stop the supplement!
Most people need or can benefit from methylated B vitamins. In this case for B12, methylcobalamin is the best form for absorption.
Stacey Gilmour Tannahill Karen Russell Paul Ohara see this is why i forget everythg 5 min after talking about it! . Nt my fault \U0001f603\U0001f603\U0001f603xx
I had a deficiency years ago and believe me you don't want that 1,000 mcg sublingual losenge under the tounge worked for me.
Vitamin B-12 complex comes in liquid form now. I take that, Ocuvite and Centrum Silver and has helped my FMS considerably.
Deficiency can cause horrible short-term memory and depression. Trust me, we thought a loved one had early onset dementia and it turns out their B12 and D levels were extremely low. B12 is crucial. A few months of B12 shots and they were back to normal, memory wise.