The importance of Vitamin B12: Avoiding Deficiency

Roughly a dozen or so times a month I administer injections to patients at my pharmacy.  About half are shingles vaccinations, the other half are for a Vitamin B12 injections.  I don’t give injections for any other vitamins.  Why Vitamin B12?  It’s simple really…

Vitamin B12 deficiencies occur not from a lack of intake in the diet (except for vegans and, possibly, vegetarians), but because some individuals lack the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from the stomach.  Hence, they need to see me once a month so I can shoot their supplement into their arm.  (No dirty spoons or lighters required)

Deficiency Symptoms

As was discussed on Monday, Vitamin B12 plays an important role in cell growth, DNA synthesis, and nerve protection.  A Vitamin B12 deficiency (called pernicious anemia) is diagnosed through abnormalities in the blood (from blood cell growth being effected). 

The primary symptoms of deficiency are nerve related.  Numbness and tingling in the extremities is most common.  Memory loss and vision changes may also occur. 

Lack of energy, mood changes, and sleep difficulty are also associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Due to Vitamin B12’s important role in cell division it is theorized a deficiency may aid in the development of cancerous cells.  This theory is not widely medically acknowledged.

Who’s at risk?

The inability to absorb Vitamin B12 is primarily due to a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach (which B12 needs to absorb).  Generally, as we age the stomach produces less hydrochloric acid.  Therefore, the elderly population (over 60, say) is at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency.  Also, people who take an acid-reducing stomach medicine (Prevacid, Zantac, etc) are at risk for absorption problems.

As has been mentioned, individuals who avoid meat and/or animal products are at risk for deficiency.

How much Vitamin B12 do you need?

The Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin B12 is 3mcg.  Unlike other water-soluble vitamins, the body actually stores Vitamin B12 in the liver for future use.      

Due to the important roles Vitamin B12 plays in the body, advocates for supplementation have demonstrated a possible benefit with daily doses around 200mcg.  There is virtually no risk of toxicity from high doses of Vitamin B12. (The injected dose is 1,000mcg)

Foods high in Vitamin B12

Animal products, animal products, and animal products.  Remember, this is A Vegan’s Most Important Vitamin because plants cannot produce Vitamin B12.  Red meat, liver, eggs, dairy, and fish are full of the good stuff. 

In Summary

The roles Vitamin B12 plays in keep us healthy are quite clear.  It keeps our cells healthy, protects our nerves, makes our DNA, turns our fat into an energy source, and helps protect our body from a dangerous free-radical.  All in a day’s work for this super star vitamin!

Programming Note:  Taking off Memorial Day (I hope you are too) for pool lounging and an All-American BBQ.  Back Tuesday.  Have a wonderful weekend.

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