B12: What is it and why is it so important?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It is required for over 100 process in the body including energy production, production of genetic material, formation of blood cells and nerve cells. There are 3 ways ways to become deficient in this vitamin:
1. You dont consume enough B12
B12 is found in the diet in red meat, dairy, fish and some vegtables. If you eat primarily a vegetarian and vegan diet which supplies a very low amount of B12 you are at risk for a deficiency.
2. You aren't absorbing B12 properly
Absorption of B12 requires a two step process. First, the acid in the stomach breaks the B12 off of the food source it was delivered on, then the B12 must bind to a protein made by the stomach called intrinsic factor to be absorbed. Two issues can come up in this process. You may have inadequate stomach acid production to break the B12 off, or you may not be producing the intrinsic factors, therefore inhibiting the absoption. Stomach acid decreases with age and it is estimated that up to 30% of adults over the age of 50 have trouble absorbing B12.
3. You are taking a medication that depletes B12
Some of the more common medication that have shown to deplete B12 include; corticosteroids, metformin, oral contraceptive pills, cholesterol lowering medication (Statins) and acid blockers.
Symptoms of a B12 defeicieny develop gradually over time, and often go unnoticed. The following are some of the more common symptoms experienced with a B12 deficiency:
Mood changes, depression and anxiety
Numbness and tingling in extremities
Gait and balance disturabances
Ringing in the ears
If you suspect a B12 deficiency a simple blood test can be done to assess your levels.
1. Briani, Chiara et al. “Cobalamin Deficiency: Clinical Picture and Radiological Findings.” Nutrients 5.11 (2013): 4521–4539. PMC. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
2. Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999