First, I want to introduce you to some of our BNFF (best nutritional friends forever), the B-Complex Family.
One of the questions I was asked repeatedly by clients is “why are there missing B vitamin numbers?” Where are B4, B8, B10 and B11? There is a lot more than just 4 missing from this family’s numbers. In fact, there were a total of 29 named B vitamins. The numbers went up to B23, and then they started with letters like Bh, Bm, Bp, etc. Nutritional science was in its infancy, so researchers were still trying to figure what an essential nutrient was in the human body. Scientists pulled the chairs out from 21 candidates and 8 members were left sitting inside the circle to become what is known today as the B- Complex family.
Invigorating Red-Pep You Up!
The hardest vitamin to decipher was B12. In the middle of this vitamin is found the rare element called cobalt. This is why the color B12 is ruby-red. If you become severely deficient, injection is necessary for fast action. B12 is responsible for the production of red blood cells and is the most complex of all the vitamins. It’s so intricate that the chemical formula wasn’t discovered until the 1960’s. They knew the function of B12 in the body, but couldn’t figure out how to produce it in the lab.
The entire B-complex family are called water-soluble vitamins. This means that any excess of any one vitamin ends up in your urine. One of the exceptions is B12. B12 gets stored in your liver. In fact, the storage is enough to hold you for up to 2 years. After storage levels in the liver are full and you have enough B12 for the day, the rest does end up in the urine.
Spinal Cord W/Brain Is Central Nervous System
B12 with folic acid assists in the production of red blood cells. B12 is involved in maintaining a healthy CNS (central nervous system). CNS includes the brain, spinal cord and all the nerves that run as electrical highways throughout your body. B12 functional role in the production of DNA (our genes) and the proper breakdown of fats. It also orchestrates in the formation of proteins.
Individuals at highest risk for vitamin B12 deficiency are? Vegans? Think again. The answer is adults over the age of 50. Those individuals are most vulnerable for not having enough of this vitamin. As our intestinal tract ages, many of us start producing less stomach acid. Acid is a necessity to pull off B12 from meats or seafood. But now there is one more step before the body will absorb the vitamin. Way down towards the end of your small intestine is a portion called the ileum. There, the body secretes a substance called intrinsic factor. This factor allows the B12 to finally be absorbed into our cells. With increasing age, you produce less intrinsic factor and therefore less B12 is absorbed from your foods.
Other situations where B12 deficiencies may be likely are patients with gastric bypass surgery. They lose the ability to produce as much acid in addition to loss of intrinsic factor; such as individuals that are on chronic medications to lower stomach acid. These are patients on antacids (Maalox, Tums), H2 blockers (Zantac, Tagamet, Axid) and proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s like Prilosec, Nexium, Aciphex). You are producing much less acid because of these drugs that either neutralize or decrease production of acid. Less acid, less B12 captured out of the food and therefore a significant absorption of B12. Patients with GI (gastrointestinal) problems like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Crohn’s disease and other intestinal disease can lead to a B12 deficient state. Also, alcohol, metformin (diabetes medication), chronic antibiotics and smoking also lower B12 levels, sometimes substantially. Get your B12 level checked by your health care practitioner if you take or have any of the above problems.
B12 deficiency symptoms are pale skin, lack of energy, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and sore tongue. With a severe deficiency of B12 comes more drastic symptoms of mood changes, depression, memory loss, difficulty walking and tingling/numbness of the extremities.
If you are a strict vegan, please supplement your diet with healthy foods fortified with the B’s including B12. You may also want to consider supplements. Consult with your health care professional. If you are a vegetarian, no worries you should get enough from dairy products especially yogurt and eggs. Either group can easily have their B12 checked every so often to make sure your levels are normal.
If supplementing with a plain oral B12 you need high doses because the body absorbs so little of it. Sublingual doses can be lower because it bypasses the intestinal tract so intrinsic factor is not needed for absorption. There are also nasal sprays or gels that work well if you’re not nasally congested and don’t have chronic allergies. Overall, sublingual is the most versatile and best formulation for good B12 absorption. There is also a B12 transdermal patch that has gotten mixed reviews. It is expensive but convenient. You need 1-2 patches per week. Boxes contain 8 patches. They range from $18-25 per box depending on brand name. I don’t have enough valid evidence to recommend the patches.
One wild thing I discovered about vitamin B12 is that ruminant animals get the vitamin from bacteria in the dirt. Some ruminant animals are cattle, deer, buffalo, bison, sheep and goats. In their multiple stomachs, bacteria find time to party, give off gas and produce vitamin B12. Why plants don’t normally have any B12 may be they don’t eat dirt but are only grown in it. That is why produce does not have any appreciable amounts of B12.
Other Sources Of B12
1. Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines and trout)
2. Crustacean (crab, lobster and shrimp)
3. Beef Liver
4. Fortified foods like cereals, tofu, soy milk, textured vegetable proteins
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