Having a Vitamin B12 deficiency can make your health take a turn for the worse. Note that genetics often plays a role in Vitamin B deficiency, and it is wise if you suspect you are having issues to do genetics testing.
Vitamin B12, one of the eight B vitamins, is essential for the functioning and maintenance of the nervous system. This water-soluble vitamin is also responsible for red blood cell formation. It also aids protein metabolism as well as DNA synthesis.
Read below to find out what you need to know about Vitamin B Deficiency.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Remember, a deficiency occurs when a person’s body does not take enough or cannot absorb enough vitamin B12 from food. Symptoms of low levels of vitamin B12 include:
- mood disorders
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- rapid heart beat
- nerve damage
- tingling sensation in the hands and feet
- poor balance
- psychological issues
- confusion or memory loss, and
- megaloblastic anemia (pernicious anemia), which can cause severe damage to the nervous system.
Causes of Deficiency and Who is at Risk
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. This essentially means it is not stored in the body. This vitamin is found in animal foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and milk products) and dietary supplements. Hence, it you must replace it daily.
Vegans and Vegetarians:
This puts vegans and vegetarians at risk for deficiency since they do not eat meat, eggs, or dairy.
Over 50 years old:
Note, adults over fifty are also at a higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. It may be common for these adults to suffer from atrophic gastritis, which means that the stomach isn’t producing enough hydrochloric acid to absorb the vitamin B12 found naturally in food.
Also, others predisposed to a deficiency are those with digestive disorders, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, or other pancreatic diseases. Having these diseases, or else having a history of gastrointestinal or weight loss surgery, may cause people to have issues absorbing nutrients, including the essential vitamin B12.
Lack of Intrinsic Factor:
Also at risk are those who do not produce intrinsic factor, a protein that enables the body to absorb vitamin B12. A lack of production of intrinsic factor leads to pernicious anemia, which vitamin B12 treats.
Additionally, people with various genetic mutations may not be able to absorb various forms of Vitamin B efficiently.
Testing Your B12 Levels
Along with those who may be suffering from symptoms of deficiency, or those who just want to be cautious, it is highly recommended that those who maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet get their blood levels checked every year to ensure optimal health. This is especially important for those who are not strict about taking supplements.
There are several tests you can take to check your vitamin B12 levels.
Standard Blood Test
A Vitamin B12 test can help with detecting the causes of some types of anemia. This test is also very helpful with evaluating the health of those who suffer from malabsorption or malnutrition.
Methylmalonic Acid Test
Next, a methylmalonic acid test is used primarily to detect early to mild deficiency of vitamin B12. This test is helpful because if there is not a sufficient amount of vitamin B12 in the body, methylmalonic acid (MMA) levels will begin to rise, leading to an increase of MMA in the urine and blood, which gives the indication of B12 deficiency. This test is highly sensitive and is therefore a go-to test for early detection.
A homocysteine test is also an option. This test is usually done for malnourished people and is useful because a higher concentration of homocysteine (an amino acid) can be detected before vitamin B12 tests results come back as abnormal. In this case, if there is a vitamin B12 deficiency, the body can’t properly convert homocysteine or use it. This results in higher levels of homocysteine in blood.
Finally, a Schilling test effectively determines your absorption of vitamin B12. This test may be performed to discover the cause of B12 deficiency or to detect if you have pernicious anemia by evaluating whether you produce enough intrinsic factor.
Food Sources for Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods. Other foods may be fortified artificially with vitamin B12 (check the labels to find out), which is a good option for those who don’t eat animal foods. However, this is not the same as consuming it naturally. Natural food sources include: meat, poultry, liver or kidney, fish and shellfish, eggs, and dairy.
Another good source of B12 are supplements such as multivitamins, most of which contains Vitamin B12. Keep in mind that this B vitamin can be absorbed better when taken along with other B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, or Vitamin B6.
Methylcobalamin has been shown to increase B12 levels. It is also the better choice as it remains in the body longer and at higher levels than cyanocobalamin. Likewise, for people with certain genetic mutations (MTHFR genetic mutations), cyanocobalamin can be harmful to them. **Thus, hydroxocobalamin is the better choice for others due to their genetic makeup – those with COMT genetic mutations. Again, taking the wrong form could cause serious issues and unnecessary suffering.