What is Vitamin B12 & What Does It Do?

by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic

& Nutritional Healing Center

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak. It benefits your mood, energy level, memory, heart, skin, hair, digestion, and more. It is an essential vitamin for addressing adrenal fatigue, enzyme production, and hormonal balance, as well as helping maintain a healthy nervous and cardiovascular system.

Two steps are required for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from food. First, hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which vitamin B12 is attached in food. After this, vitamin B12 combines with a protein made by the stomach, called the intrinsic factor, and is absorbed by the body. Some people have pernicious anemia, a condition in which they cannot make intrinsic factor. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements.

What Foods Provide Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is found in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods. Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods, including beef liver and clams, which also happen to be the best sources of vitamin B12. Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products are also good sources of vitamin B12. Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, and other food products are fortified with vitamin B12.

Certain groups of people may not get enough vitamin B12 or have trouble absorbing it.

Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat. But some people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from food. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 1.5 percent and 15 percent of the public.

Older adults, who do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach to absorb the vitamin B12 naturally present in food, should think about getting their vitamin B12 from fortified foods or dietary supplements because, in most cases, it is easier for their bodies to absorb vitamin B12 from these sources.

People with pernicious anemia whose bodies do not make the intrinsic factor needed to absorb vitamin B12 need help in getting it. Doctors usually treat pernicious anemia with vitamin B12 shots, although very high oral doses of vitamin B12 may also be effective.

Certain medical conditions can decrease the amount of vitamin B12 in the body. People who have had gastrointestinal surgery or who have digestive disorders, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, are more prone to a B12 deficiency because these conditions can decrease the amount of vitamin B12 the body can absorb.

Some people who eat little or no animal foods, such as vegetarians and vegans, can be deficient in B12 because only animal foods naturally have vitamin B12. When pregnant women and women who breastfeed their babies are strict vegetarians or vegans, their babies might also not get enough vitamin B12.

Do I Need Supplementation?

There is a reason that vitamin B12 supplements are some of the most popular supplements on the market. Vitamin B12 benefits include increasing energy levels, improving mood, protecting memory, and more. It is possible to get vitamin B12 from the foods you eat, but certain people can benefit from taking a vitamin B12 supplement: those over the age of 50; those who have had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight loss surgery; people with digestive disorders, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease; and people who avoid eating animal products, which are the richest sources of B12. Others may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 if they have pernicious anemia, have a history of alcoholism or heavy smoking, have a history of long-term antibiotic use, who regularly use stomach acid-controlling medications, who regularly take potassium supplements, who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and who have bowel or pancreatic cancer.

What Happens If I Do Not Get Enough Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 deficiency causes tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and megaloblastic anemia. Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur. Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms include problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system, even in people who do not have anemia, so it is important to treat a deficiency as soon as possible.

In infants, signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include failure to thrive, problems with movement, delays in reaching the typical developmental milestones, and megaloblastic anemia.

Large amounts of folic acid can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency by correcting megaloblastic anemia, a hallmark of vitamin B12 deficiency. However, folic acid does not correct the progressive damage to the nervous system that vitamin B12 deficiency also causes. For this reason, healthy adults should not get more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day.

What Are Some Effects of Vitamin B12 on Health?

It is important to understand how vitamin B12 affects your health. Scientists have discovered some very important reasons why you need adequate vitamin B12. Below are just a few reasons vitamin B12 is so important.

You need it to help avert heart disease. Vitamin B12 supplements (along with folic acid and vitamin B6) do not reduce the risk of getting cardiovascular disease, but they do reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a compound linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

As we age, some people develop dementia. These people often have high levels of homocysteine in the blood. Again, Vitamin B12 (with folic acid and vitamin B6) can lower homocysteine levels, but scientists do not yet know whether these vitamins actually help prevent or treat dementia.

In addition, many advertisements promote vitamin B12 supplements as a way to increase energy and endurance.

Can Vitamin B12 Be Harmful?

Vitamin B12 has not been shown to cause any harm. However, vitamin B12 can interact or interfere with medicines that you take, and, in some cases, medicines can lower vitamin B12 levels in the body. Here are some examples of medicines that can interfere with the body’s absorption or use of vitamin B12: Chloramphenicol, an antibiotic used to treat certain infections;  proton pump inhibitors used to treat acid reflux and peptic ulcer disease; histamine H2 receptor antagonists that treat peptic ulcer disease; and metformin, a drug used to treat diabetes. Tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take. They can tell you if those dietary supplements might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.

If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation.  Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing ® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.

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