Deal with Your Deficiency: Vitamin B12
So here we are at our SIXTH and final week of our “Deal with Your Deficiency” series. In today’s post, we will be talking all about what is arguably one of the MOST important vitamins for human health: vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is a very well-known vitamin…so much so that it has become almost synonymously known as “the energy vitamin.” It’s true—vitamin B12 is a star player when it comes to our energy levels…but improving our energy levels is just one of the many functions of this nutrient. Ready to learn? Let’s get into it!
The Importance of Vitamin B12
As one of the B complex vitamins, vitamin B12 is responsible for many metabolic processes in the body. Like all B vitamins, it is water soluble, meaning that is passed through the body more rapidly than fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). The body IS able to store reserves of vitamin B12 in the liver for up to 4 years, though—proving just how important this vitamin is for health and survival.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for proper nerve function, nerve tissue health, neurological function and brain health, and red blood cell formation. In fact, it is SO important for blood cell formation that there is actually a type of iron deficiency that is completely vitamin B12 deficiency-induced (pernicious anemia)!
B12 is also required for cellular metabolism, including the breakdown of fatty acids, and is required for proper absorption of folate (vitamin B9, the state player in methylation).
Some of the other benefits of B12 include:
-Improving and supporting bone health
-Protects against macular degeneration
-Protects the heat by reducing homocysteine levels
-Supports fetal development and decreases risk of birth defects
-May improve depression
-Boosts memory and cognitive function
-Helps anxiety and relaxes nervous system
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is responsible for many things in the body, as you’ve read. Symptoms of B12 deficiency are widespread, and can be things such as:
-High anxiety levels
-Fatigue and tiredness
-Muscle pain, weakness, cramping, and twitching/spasming
-Numbness and tingling in hands and feet (sometimes face)
-Pale complexion (or yellowing complexion)
-Painful or inflamed tongue or ulcers in the mouth
-Severe cases of B12 deficiency can resemble the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis
Clinical vitamin B12 deficiency is diagnosed when the serum B12 level is below 200 generally. However, anything below about 350 or 400 is still cause for immediate action to get the B12 levels up ASAP. The ideal sweet spot for vitamin B12 is somewhere around 800-900, more or less depending on your individual body and constitution (a functional nutritionist or naturopath can help you identify your ideal range and help you reach it).
There's another side to this, though. It's not out of the question (and not all that rare) to see vitamin B12 levels sky high...as in off the charts (literally) high, or over 2,000. Contrary to what this appears as, this is a SEVERE vitamin B12 DEFICIENCY, not excess. Say what now?! Yes, I know it seems wrong, but hear me out. If something is hindering the body from absorbing the vitamin B12 that is coming in (for example, taking the wrong form of B12 if you have an MTHFR gene mutation), then the B12 will not be able to enter the cell. Another way you may see super HIGH B12 levels is if you are lacking sufficient stomach acid and intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is necessary for the absorption of B12 from food in the small intestine. Truthfully, any cases of deficiency can be revealed through high B12 levels instead of low/below normal. It really just depends on the individual person, how their body is responding to the deficiency, and how severe the deficiency is.
While only between 2-15% of the population is clinically deficient, as mentioned above, the cut off for “deficiency” is almost dangerously low. Given this, it’s safe to assume MANY more people are walking around with subclinical vitamin B12 deficiency that is severely compromising their quality of life and health.
Deal with Your Deficiency!
So how do we deal with a vitamin B12 deficiency? Well, my first key of advice is ALWAYS “test don’t guess.” This holds true for B12 deficiency, too. Always get proper testing done and obtain the results (and preferably always consult with a qualified healthcare provider or natural healthcare provider) prior to beginning any sort of treatment or supplementation. With B12, we can relax on this slightly because it’s just about impossible to “overdose” on B12, since it’s required for so many things, and since it’s water-soluble (aka if you take too much you’ll just pee it out).
As always, the best way to deal with a deficiency (and prevent one in the first place!) is to eat plenty of B12-rich foods which (sorry vegans) are ALL ANIMAL FOODS. B12 cannot be obtained through plant sources, unless a process of bacterial fermentation is undergone (that’s for another post!). However, this brings up an import key point to know: the people who are MOST at risk for B12 deficiency are:
-Elderly individuals (enough stomach acid is required for proper B12 absorption, and HCL production diminishes with increasing age)
-Individuals with compromised gut health (IBD, IBS, individuals who have had their colon/sections of colon removed)
-Vegans and vegetarians (for reason mentioned above)
With this said, the BEST food sources of vitamin B12 are liver (beef and chicken), eggs, grass-fed or pastured meats, grass-fed and full-fat dairy products, some fish and most shellfish (especially clams), and nutritional yeast (the only vegan thing on the list, which, as mentioned, gets its B12 through bacterial fermentation, not holistically).
In some individuals (like people suffering from Crohn’s disease) simply eating a B12-rich diet will not be enough to ward off a B12 deficiency. In these instances, supplementation is not only recommended, it is vital.
Supplementing with B12 can be quite confusing, as there are many different forms of B12 on the market: adenosylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, cyanocobalamin, etc. Thankfully, I’m giving you the info here so you don’t have to go almost crazy finding out which is best for you!
-Typically, you want to avoid cyanocobalamin. It is the most synthetic form of B12 (not found in the food supply at all), and the most poorly absorbed. It is also bound to CYANIDE, which is an end-product or urinary elimination...meaning your body tried HARD to get rid of cyanide every time you go to the bathroom, as it is toxic. So, I'll let you come to your own conclusion on cyanocobalamin, but my recommendation would be to scratch that one off the list!
-Hydroxocobalamin is a mother form of B12, and breaks down into equal ratios of adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin. There is some compelling research indicating this may be the ideal form of B12 for individual that “might” have the MTHFR gene mutation, but don’t know for sure, as well as for the general population due to its "universally well-tolerated and absorbed" quality. Good news: it's also much cheaper than methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin (read below for the low down on those).
-Adenosylcobalamin is better than cyanocobalamin, but not for those with MTHFR mutations.
-Methylcobalamin is hands down the winner, and the one I recommend to just about every client I work with. It has the best absorption rate and best track record for remedying deficiency symptoms in record time.
A Note on B12 Shots
If you are experiencing a severe vitamin B13 deficiency, your doctor may recommend vitamin B12 shots. They are in the form of cyanocobalamin, but because they are being administered through shot form (and not orally or sublingually), they do have a better absorption rate and will tend to raise super low B12 levels faster than other methods. The other ingredients in these shots are elusive and it’s hard to know for sure what is being injected into you, but in emergency situations, it may be a good option. This is a personal decision, and only one you can make yourself.
Alrighty, friends. As they say on stage, “that’s a wrap!” I truly hope this series has been helpful for you, and that you have learned ways to “deal with your deficiencies.” I’ve linked the B12 products I recommend below for you to check out if you so need.
Next week we dive into a new topic, and one that you’re sure to love…stay tuned and make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss the notification in your inbox!
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DISCLAIMER: The statements made in this post and in any content provided by Dr. Anna Johnson and Anna's Organics Wellness are the opinions of the author only, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you are experiencing symptoms of a medical problem, seek medical attention immediately or consult your physician for further guidance.