Like many other vitamins, vitamin B12 is an important nutrient for energy and optimal health. This vitamin assists various important functions in the body, including: myelin formation, DNA synthesis, flood formation, and energy production.
The problem is that many adults are deficient in vitamin B12, and a recent report suggested that 25% of adults in the United States might be severely lacking in this nutrient. Additionally, nearly half of the adult population has suboptimal levels of vitamin B12 in their blood.
Why Vitamin B12 Deficiency Occurs
Vitamin B12 is not easy to get a hold of. There are very few food sources that contain vitamin B12, and those food sources are only animal products. If a person is following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, then it is very likely that they are vitamin B12 deficient.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common in the elderly, most likely because the deficiency has grown as the result of consistently following a diet lacking in vitamin B12. Doctors also suspect that older people might have a lower ability to absorb vitamin B12, which could lead to a deficiency.
There are several causes of vitamin B12 absorption problems, including: alcohol consumption, nitrous oxide exposure, specific types of medication, pernicious anemia, low stomach acid, gut inflammation, leaky gut, or intestinal dysbosis.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, but it functions in the body differently than most water soluble vitamins. In most cases, water-soluble vitamins leave the body through the urine, so those vitamins need to be consumed over and over again. The difference with vitamin B12 is the fact that it can actually be stored within body tissues, such as the kidneys and liver. So, if you aren’t getting enough B12 in your diet, then it could take several years before the symptoms begin to show themselves.
It is important to be aware of this time-lag because if a deficiency lasts for about 7 years, then it could potentially result in brain damage that is irreversible.
Body Functions Impacted by Vitamin B12
This micronutrient helps with many functions in the body, including:
- Immune system functionality
- Regulating the production of adrenal hormones
- Fat metabolism, food absorption, and proper digestion
- Mental, emotional, and physical energy production
- Memory and mental clarity
- Mood regulation
- Supporting pregnancy and female reproductive health
- Good circulation
- Nerve development and growth
- Cell longevity and formation
- Efficient blood circulation
By looking at this list, you can see that vitamin B12 is critical for optimal health. It is important that you are proactively including vitamin B12 in your diet, so that you can support all of these health functions.
Health Problems Caused By Vitamin B12 Deficiency
There are both mild and severe health problems that might occur if a person doesn’t get enough vitamin B12. Mild symptoms and health problems associated with vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Brain fog
- Memory problems
- Tingling in the hands or in the feet
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of energy
- Fatigue without explanation
- Feeling apathetic or unmotivated
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems
Severe symptoms and health problems associated with vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Brain abnormalities
- Cardiovascular problems
- Psychosis, delusions, and hallucinations
- Multiple sclerosis
In many cases, the health problems may actually be misdiagnosed, because the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency may appear similar to symptoms of other health conditions. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms very similar to multiple sclerosis (MS), in which case the doctor begins using treatments that are specifically designed for treating MS. You can see how this can cause big problems because the treatment is not what he/she needs and the MS treatment can actually further complicate the situation.
Most physicians don’t test for vitamin B12 deficiency, so they don’t realize that they are looking at the wrong diagnosis. Knowing what to watch for and talking regularly with your doctor can help reduce the risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency going unchecked.
Food Sources of Vitamin B12
As mentioned earlier, vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products. It is very difficult, practically impossible, to get B12 from plants alone. Sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Beef Liver
There is a myth among vegans and vegetarians that vitamin B12 can be obtained through certain plant foods, such as brewer’s yeast, spirulina, fermented soy, and seaweed. Even though there are claims that these foods contain vitamin B12, the truth is that these plant based food sources actually have B12 analogues. Analogues are basically inactive forms of vitamin B12, so plant sources don’t provide true (active) vitamin B12 that your body can utilize. In fact, these analogues can actually block the intake of true vitamin B12, potentially making the situation worse.
Because vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal products, it is a good idea for vegans and vegetarians to use a vitamin B12 supplement in order to avoid deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is essential for our normal metabolic function and health. So stay on the ball and be self-aware. If you think you’re showing any symptoms of B12 deficiency make an appointment and talk it over with your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
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