Vitamin B-12 is commonly referred to as the energy vitamin, although it has a number of other very important functions within our bodies. It is estimated that up to 40% of the UK’s elderly ‘meat-eating’ adults may be deficient in vitamin B-12 and that half of the adult population may have sub-optimal levels. These figures indicate that millions of adults may be deficient in vitamin B-12.
Historically, many experts believed that vitamin B-12 deficiency was solely associated with vegetarians since plant sources have virtually no vitamin B-12. This belief was wrong because vitamin B-12 deficiency is actually widespread and the older you get, the more likely you are to be deficient.
So what is Vitamin B-12 and what role does it play in our body?
Vitamin B-12 is scientifically named ‘cobalamin’. It is normally found in its natural state only in animal sources of food including beef, lamb, venison, salmon, chicken and eggs. Vitamin B-12 is simply not available from plants since plants do not require vitamin B-12 for any function and therefore have no mechanisms to produce or store it. Plant sources of vitamin B-12 are analogs and actually block the uptake of vitamin B-12 leading to deficiencies, particularly amongst strict vegans and vegetarians.
Vitamin B-12 is actually a co-enzyme that is required by the enzymes within our bodies to perform wide and varying roles. It is involved in many critical functions in the body including:
- the production of red blood cells which carry vital oxygen for energy release
- healthy digestion, food absorption, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, which are vital for energy production.
- helps promote healthy circulation.
- is required for the production of adrenal hormones which are involved in stress management and energy production.
- necessary for normal nerve growth and function.
- helping to promote a healthy immune system.
- crucial for supporting lower homocysteine levels, a compound linked to cardiovascular concerns.
- may help prevent cognitive decline and certainly helps support mental concentration.
- the manufacture of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- helps convert carbohydrates into sugar for energy.
Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include:
- fatigue and a general lack of energy
- muscle weakness
- inability to concentrate
- mood swings
- tingling in the extremities
- sleep disturbances
The symptoms mentioned above are generally easily recognizable, however the implications of vitamin B-12 deficiency are far reaching and not immediately apparent. It may help protect against cardiovascular and cognitive concerns associated with excess homocysteine in the bloodstream, as well affecting fertility, pregnancy and the nervous system.
How do we get a deficiency of vitamin B-12?
As we get older, we are more likely to have a vitamin B-12 deficiency. One of the reasons for this is simply not eating food rich in this vitamin and the other reason is due to our inability to absorb this crucial vitamin.
As we age, our digestive system simply becomes inefficient. We produce less digestive enzymes, which causes bloating and other digestive concerns. Specifically, the lining of our stomach loses its ability to produce sufficient hydrochloric acid which is required to release vitamin B-12 from food. Other factors that many cause vitamin B-12 deficiency include the over-use of antacids and some specific widely used drugs since they lower stomach acid secretion. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is also linked to those people suffering from H pylori, a common cause of stomach ulcers.
However, the main causal factor for vitamin B-12 deficiency in the adult population is due to a lack of intrinsic factor, a protein that binds to vitamin B-12 and allows it to be absorbed further down in the intestine. This is the main causal factor of vitamin B-12 deficiency in adults and is totally out of our control as it is one of the symptoms of ageing.
These days there are many foods, often cereals, which are fortified with vitamin B-12 indicating its importance. However, processed cereals and grains are not particularly healthy. They break down into sugar easily and stimulate insulin production. It is for this reason that I recommend the use of vitamin B-12 by way of supplementation to avoid a deficiency.
You may wish to investigate vitamin B-12 deficiency if:
- you are a vegan or follow a vegetarian diet
- you are over 50
- have a H pylori infection
- regularly use antacids
- drink more than three or four cups of coffee on a daily basis
- suffer from indigestion, heartburn or inflammatory gastric concerns
- suffer from fatigue, mental fog, an inability to concentrate and mood swings.
Which supplement should I take?
There are basically three types of vitamin B-12 (cobalamins) used in supplements.
Cyanocobalamin is the most popular form of vitamin B-12 used in supplements however studies indicate that methylcobalamin is the most active form of vitamin B-12. Taking other forms of vitamin B-12 is capsule or tablet forms still relies on the availability of intrinsic factor, the protein that binds to vitamin B-12 allowing its absorption in the intestines, which is liable to be deficient once you are over 50. Additionally, the other forms of cobalamin need to be converted into a coenzyme, a process that is challenging.
If you are not getting sufficient vitamin B-12 in your diet, or suspect that your body is not able to absorb vitamin B-12 efficiently, I recommend you supplement using Methyl B-12 by Jarrow Formula’s. This supplement provides the active form of vitamin B-12, methylcobalamin, in a lozenge form which ensures that it passes straight into the bloodstream and avoids the gastric route which has problems which I have already touched upon earlier. Vitamin B-12 in this form is safe and ensures optimum delivery into the bloodstream without any side effects. A regular intake of vitamin B-12 can vastly improve the quality of your life and may help protect you against debilitating diseases.
This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.