Vitamin B12: Energy Powerhouse for Mind and Body
With so many health benefits, Vitamin D and Omega 3 have taken the limelight lately, and vitamin B12 has indeed taken a back seat. This is quite a shame because vitamin B12 shines when it steps into the spotlight. Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in heart health, brain function and energy levels. It is needed to form red blood cells for proper nerve function and to break down homocysteine, a protein related to heart health.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Foods from animals–beef, liver, fish, clams, as well as cheese, eggs, milk and other dairy products–contain vitamin B12. Other sources include fortified cereals and grains. Gastric acid and enzymes in the stomach break vitamin B12 apart from the protein in the food to which it’s bound. B vitamins that have been added to cereals or taken in supplement form are already broken down. In free form, vitamin B12 binds with a protein made by the cells of the stomach lining, called “intrinsic factor.” It then enters the gut where it absorbs into our body for use.
Factors that Affect B12 Levels
Many factors get in the way of having enough B12.
- When stomach acid is low, because of long-term antacid use or stomach surgery, vitamin B12 remains bound to the food source instead of breaking down so it can bind with intrinsic factor to be absorbed.
- Some people develop “atrophic gastritis” as they age, and absorbing B12 remains difficult.
- Vegetarians who do not eat animal products have little vitamin B12 intake and will lack it.
- Some medications like aspirin, Metformin, Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet reduce B12 levels.
- Those with certain diseases remain at risk. With “pernicious anemia,” which affects 1-2 percent of adults, people lack intrinsic factor for absorbing B12. Atrophic gastritis affects 10-30 percent of older adults.
Vitamin B12 and Health
B12 and B vitamins in general have earned a strong reputation as stress reducers and energy boosters. B12 does indeed plays a role in breaking down starches and proteins needed for energy. B12 forms red blood cells. It keeps homocysteine levels in check, and helps our nervous systems work well. One study shows that low vitamin B12 levels in older adults may cause a reversible dementia in elderly patients. B12 also works to prevent numbness and tingling, and it is central to making DNA.
Signs of B12 Deficiency
- low energy
- poor appetite and weight loss
- tingling in the hands and feet
- trouble with balance
- sad, depressed
- sores on the tongue and in the mouth
- poor memory