Your guide to Vitamin B12

Your guide to Vitamin B12

One of the Vitamins of the B-complex group , this Vitamin is uniquely important, since its deficiency or mal-absorption can have severe repercussions. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and yeast and so is found in animal based foods.

One of the consequences of the modern, fast food lifestyle is that the deficiency of this Vitamin is quite common. Are you getting enough of this Vitamin ??? Many people don’t. And that could cause serious health issues.
Vitamin B 12 does a lot for you. Some of the essential functions  are :

  • The metabolism of carbohydrates
  • Helps increase WBC & platelet count
  • Maintains healthy functioning of the cells
  • Plays an important role in the insulation of the nerves
  • Vital for bone-marrow function
  • Helps make your DNA & RBCs
  • Is important for proper functioning of the brain & the nervous system

B12 Deficiency

It is one of the most common deficiencies that I get to hear about, besides Vitamin D3. Vegans or Vegetarians who barely consume milk & milk products are the most susceptible to this deficiency, primarily due to low intake. Whereas in some cases non-vegetarians may also suffer from the same due to mal-absorption, though such cases are less frequent.

A deficiency may also happen if your B12 needs are higher than your body’s ability to supply B12 due to higher than normal requirements caused by environmental factors and stress/ emotional issues.

Deficiency due to less intake :

If you were a vegetarian living in a natural environment, B 12 would be naturally available to you from sources like farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, water from the ponds, rivers etc. However we live in a modernized world where everything is super-hygeinic and even processed. Less intake of B12 in vegans and vegetarians is often due to :

  • Little to no intake of Curd, Cheese, Paneer & other milk products
  • Sanitized drinking water
  • Pasteurised or processed foods
  • Thoroughly washing fruits & vegetables (which is a necessity though, considering pesticides sprayed on the food)

Deficiency due to mal-absorption :

At times the deficiency of Vitamin B12 is due to mal-absorption which is due to lack of intrinsic factor or due to pernicious anaemia.

Lifestyle factors that affect the absorption of Vitamin B 12 are :

  • Alcohol consumption. This also hampers the absorption of all other B Vitamins
  • Consumption of packaged foods. Anything with a long shelf life is bad news for your health.
  • Consumption of junk food
  • A raw/vegan diet or a diet predominating in junk food, that is low in EFA (essential fatty acids ) & EAA (essential amino acids)
  • Over-eating non-vegetarian food
  • Consuming irritants that disturb intestinal bacteria, like ginger, onions, garlic and spicy foods
  • Not eating enough of fruits, vegetables which support gut-health
  • Long-term use of acid-reducing drugs
  • Conditions like Atrophic gastritis, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, Grave’s disease etc.
  • Smoking
  • A poor diet that causes a pH imbalance in the body

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency :

Initial symptoms of B12 deficiency can include:

weakness

lightheadedness

faulty digestion

shortness of breath

sore mouth and loss of taste

numbness and/or tingling in the fingers and toes

Loss of appetite

weight loss

diarrhea

nausea

abdominal pain

Neurological manifestations of severe deficiency include 

mild depression
nervousness
hyperactive reflexes
muscle tremors
confusion
difficulty thinking
impaired balance
poor coordination
impaired memory
behavioral changes

If not treated on time, the deficiency of this vitamin can cause irreversible damage to one’s well being.  If impaired memory and behaviour changes are a “pre-Alzheimer’s” stage, normalizing the B12 level on an immediate basis may prevent full-blown Alzheimer’s which is irreversible.

The above symptoms can also relate to other deficiencies or diseases, hence do not self-diagnose. Take the help of a medical practitioner for accurate diagnosis.

What if you have insufficiency or deficiency of B12 ???

There are 4 tests done for detecting a B 12 deficiency :

  • Serum B12
  • Homocysteine levels
  • MMA (Methylmalonic acid serum)
  • Holotranscobalamin

If you have been detected with a B 12 deficiency, your physician may recommend you oral supplements and/or Injections depending on various individual factors.

Besides supplementation, here is what you can do :

  • Consume enough of fermented and animal foods like curd, cheese, eggs.
  • Eat freshly prepared , wholesome foods
  • Do not microwave your foods (not even for reheating)
  • Consume enough of protein rich foods ( Legumes & pulses, Eggs, Fish & lean chicken)
  • Balance your non-veg intake with enough of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Avoid all processed and packaged food (including ketchup & ‘convenience’ foods like ready made ginger garlic paste, purees etc)
  • Eat whole foods,close to their natural form.
  • Get the above mentioned 4 tests done from time to time
  • Supplementation will go a long way

There is no test that can tell you how long your B12 status will be adequate if your body is not getting/making a reliable source of B12. So those people who subscribe to the “better to be safe than sorry” philosophy may either test their B12 status on a regular basis, or simply supplement with B12 to prevent a deficiency. With proper nutrition , most of the health issues that people wrongly attribute to “age”, can be easily corrected and/or prevented.

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