My Hero! Vitamin B12: The (Less Absorbed) Key to Optimal Health

November 2, 2023 9 mins to read
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Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins for the body, and in Vegans, a common deficiency. But there’s a good chance many of non-vegans could benefit from more B12. In this article I go over why Vitamin B12 is so essential to optimal health, especially it’s role in lowering inflammation, which plays a major role in disease. So, read on my wellness warriors!

Where Do We Get B12?

Vitamin B12 isn’t actually made in the human body, nor do we get it directly from food. Instead it’s produced by bacteria in the intestine during digestion – this can be in small amounts in our own digestive tract, or by consuming meat or animal by products. Animals like cows and sheep, as well as fish have plenty of these bacteria that produce B12 during digestion, which builds in their various tissues. IN fact certain animals are more efficient at producing or retaining Vitamin B12 during digestion Vs humans. When we consume meat or animal by-products (and their tissues) we get this stored B12. But some people might have difficulty absorbing it from food, which is where supplements can come in handy.

Vegans and B12

As you can see vegans who don’t consume any meat or animal by-products and are not consuming B12, do not produce enough during digestion for optimal health, which can cause varying degrees of deficiency as time goes on. Deficiency in B12 long-term, can contribute to increased risk of nerve damage and a wide range of diseases. Therefore vegans must consume B12 daily to reduce the risk of developing a range of health issues. Vegetarians are at a much lower risk of deficiency, because they usually still consume animal by-products like eggs, which are nutrient dense, and rich sources of vitamin B12.

🔍 The B12-Inflammation Connection

Recent findings from Spain, involving the PREDIMED trial data, have revealed a fascinating link: As Vitamin B12 levels increase, inflammation markers decrease. This is a breakthrough in healthcare, because chronic inflammation is often the silent culprit behind heart disease, diabetes, and brain disorders.

Fun Fact: 🐭 This isn’t just about humans; similar findings were observed in older mice, opening doors for future research!

💊 Why We Can’t Ignore B12

Vitamin B12 isn’t just an energy-booster, it plays a role in many differences processes in the body:

  • Red Blood Cells: B12 is crucial for producing red blood cells that transport oxygen and nutrients.
  • Tricky to Obtain: Despite needing only 2.4 micrograms daily, getting enough can be challenging, especially for vegetarians, vegans, and even some meat-eaters (due mainly to the difficulty some people have absorbing and retaining it).

Fun Fact : Your Author – yes me! – was a vegan for over 10 years (before I got into nutrition). After blood tests, I was found to be so grossly deficient in B12, that I had to take needle B12 injections to get back up to healthy levels. And afterword, I took a sublingual tablet (under the tongue for better absorption) of 5000mcg, daily. Many vegans will get sick due to this same mistake.

B12 Deficiency Symptoms

Some of the more common and easy to identify symptoms of B12 deficiency includes: Fatigue, numbness, memory issues, or heart palpitations. But let’s go into more detail:

Most Common Symptoms of B12 Deficiency:

  1. Fatigue and Weakness: A very common early sign, as the body isn’t able to produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen efficiently.
  2. Pale or Jaundiced Skin: A lack of B12 can cause a decrease in red blood cell production, making the skin appear paler. In severe cases, it may lead to jaundice.
  3. Sensations of Pins and Needles: Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet can occur due to nerve damage caused by prolonged B12 deficiency.

Less Common Symptoms of B12 Deficiency:

  1. Changes in Mobility: Difficulty walking or a change in the way you walk can occur if the deficiency is not addressed over time.
  2. Glossitis and Mouth Ulcers: A swollen, inflamed tongue (glossitis) and mouth ulcers may develop.
  3. Breathlessness and Dizziness: These symptoms can arise from the body struggling to transport oxygen to all its cells due to a lack of red blood cells.

Least Common, But Serious Symptoms:

  1. Vision Disturbances: In some cases, untreated B12 deficiency can affect the nervous system and lead to vision problems.
  2. Memory Issues and Difficulty Concentrating: Over time, the deficiency can impact the nervous system, potentially leading to cognitive changes.
  3. Heart Palpitations: Irregular heartbeats or the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally fast.

Severe and Advanced Symptoms:

  1. Psychological Problems: In advanced cases, deficiency can lead to depression, irritability, and even behavioral changes.
  2. Neurological Damage: In severe and prolonged cases, permanent nerve damage can occur.

Remember that the severity and progression of these symptoms can vary from person to person. If you suspect a Vitamin B12 deficiency, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

🔬 B12’s Battle Against Inflammation

  1. Homocysteine Regulation: Adequate B12 keeps homocysteine levels in check, reducing inflammation and vessel damage risk.
  2. Inflammatory Molecules: B12 deficiency leads to an overproduction of inflammatory molecules. More B12 = Less inflammation.
  3. Cytokine Control: B12 might help regulate cytokines, the proteins that can promote inflammation.

Inflammation: The Body’s Alarm System

Just like with oxidation in the body, some inflammation is necessary, but chronic inflammation can quickly become problematic and put you at increased risk for many health issues. B12 plays a preventive role by keeping inflammation markers like CRP in check.

🤔 To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Taking for a Shakespeare quote “To Supplement or Not to Supplement?…that is the question”. Here are a few things to consider before supplementing with B12:

  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: A blood test is easy to get, and can reveal if your B12 levels are adequate or if you’re deficient.
  • Food First. Supplements Secondary: Prioritize B12-rich foods like organ meats, seafood, poultry, and even seaweed. Seaweed snacks are my personal favorite B21 food source, and organ meat (capsules), Such as grass-fed beef liver.
  • Choosing Supplements: While cyanocobalamin is common, it has downsides and potential health issues. Opt instead for methylcobalamin which is a safer, natural alternative and may be better absorbed.
  • Injections or Sublingual: If after supplementing with more blood tests, and your B12 levels are still not optimal, you may discuss B12 injections with your Doctor. Or if you’d prefer an Over The Counter (OTC) solution, sublingual tablets – placed under the tongue to absorb into the glands under the tongue and directly into the bloodstream – may also be an option.

Conclusion

Vitamin B12 is a key player in our overall health, especially in managing inflammation, a driving force behind disease. Whether you get it from your diet or supplements, keeping an eye on your B12 levels can be a significant step towards better health – especially if you are vegan.

Question everything, always get a second opinion and as always…Stay Healthy!💪

Vegan In Need of Nutritional Guidance

Obviously I profit off recommending you book an intake appointment as my patient, if you are vegan or are considering the diet…I highly recommend you book a few sessions with a nutritional expert like me to make sure you get a plan set up to maintain optimal health. It is extremely hard to do a vegan diet properly (meaning you get proper nutrition), trust me I was a vegan for over 12 years before getting into nutrition, and developed health issues as a result of not doing that diet properly…I just don’t want to see anyone make the mistakes I did, that’s a big part of what pushed me into the nutrition field.

The Best Supplement for Vegans

If you don’t want to book an appointment there is also a great supplement formula I wish I had known about and taken while I was vegan, because It would have ensured I got all the 91 nutrients the body needs, and I probably never would have developed the health issues I did, due to long-term deficiencies associated with my vegan diet. Please, at least get that! Don’t make the mistakes I did.

References

  1. Martínez-González, M. A., Salas-Salvadó, J., Estruch, R., Corella, D., Fitó, M., Ros, E., & PREDIMED Study Investigators. (2013). Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights From the PREDIMED Study. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 55(6), 580–589. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2013.04.004. [Supports the use of PREDIMED trial data in research]
  2. Suárez-Ortegón, M. F., Ensaldo-Carrasco, E., Shi, T., McLachlan, S., Fernandez-Real, J. M., & Wild, S. H. (2018). Vitamin B12 and the risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 28(10), 987–995. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2018.06.018. [Highlights the relationship between Vitamin B12 and cardiovascular health]
  3. Paul, C., & Brady, D. M. (2017). Comparative Bioavailability and Utilization of Particular Forms of B12 Supplements With Potential to Mitigate B12-related Genetic Polymorphisms. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 16(1), 42–49. [Discusses the bioavailability of different forms of Vitamin B12]
  4. Carmel, R. (2008). How I treat cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency. Blood, 112(6), 2214–2221. doi:10.1182/blood-2008-03-040253. [Provides information on Vitamin B12 deficiency and its implications]
  5. Miller, A., Korem, M., Almog, R., & Galboiz, Y. (2005). Vitamin B12, demyelination, remyelination and repair in multiple sclerosis. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 233(1-2), 93–97. doi:10.1016/j.jns.2005.03.009. [Explores the role of Vitamin B12 in neurological conditions]
  6. Pawlak, R., Parrott, S. J., Raj, S., Cullum-Dugan, D., & Lucus, D. (2013). How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? Nutrition Reviews, 71(2), 110–117. doi:10.1111/nure.12001. [Provides statistics on Vitamin B12 deficiency among vegetarians and vegans]
  7. de Jager, C. A., Oulhaj, A., Jacoby, R., Refsum, H., & Smith, A. D. (2014). Cognitive and clinical outcomes of homocysteine-lowering B-vitamin treatment in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(6), 631–638. doi:10.1002/gps.4046. [Investigates the effects of B-vitamin treatment on cognitive health]
  8. Selhub, J., Bagley, L. C., Miller, J., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2000). B vitamins, homocysteine, and neurocognitive function in the elderly. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(2), 614S–620S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/71.2.614s. [Discusses the relationship between B vitamins and cognitive function in the elderly]

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