Because vitamin B12 is essential for health, it is important to understand the key facts about B12. Vitamin B12 is a B complex vitamin that is water soluble. It assists in carbohydrate metabolism and energy production, forms red blood cells, and assists in neurological function. As you can see, if you do not have enough of this vitamin you will not feel your best. To prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency, you need to understand the facts about B12 so you can make sure you are getting enough for optimal health.
1. You Can Make B12
One of the most interesting facts about B12 is that the good bacteria in your intestines actually manufacture this vitamin. In an ideal world the B12 produced by the beneficial bacteria would be enough for you to feel your best. However, there are many factors that prevent the bacteria from producing adequate levels of B12, including taking antibiotics and diuretics. Even eating spicy food can affect the bacteria’s ability to produce B12. Therefore, while the bacteria can manufacture B12, you can’t rely on it.
2. Importance of Protein
B12 needs a binding protein, called the intrinsic factor, to be properly absorbed by the body. Your stomach secretes the intrinsic factor (IF) so that it can bind to the B12 and carry it into your bloodstream. In order to make the IF, your body needs adequate levels of protein, which is one of the reasons why you need to make sure you are getting enough protein. You can’t absorb B12 without it!
3. Not a Vegan Problem
There is a common assumption that B12 deficiency is a problem that only occurs in people who follow vegan or vegetarian diets. However, plenty of people who eat meat also get B12 deficiencies. One reason anyone can become B12 deficient is because their body cannot manufacture the IF even when it has adequate levels of protein. In this case, no matter how much protein or B12 you are taking in, you won’t absorb the B12.
4. Risk Factors for Deficiency
Aside from not being able to manufacture IF, there are other reasons people can become B12 deficient. Not consuming enough B12 fortified foods or meat will put a person at risk for a deficiency. Also, having low levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach can put a person at risk for a deficiency. This is because hydrochloric acid breaks down the proteins that are used to make the IF, which is crucial for B12 absorption.
5. Deficiency Symptoms
Because vitamin B12 is important for so many functions in the body, a deficiency can result in a wide range of symptoms. Initial symptoms of a B12 deficiency include weakness, weight loss, and numbness in the fingers and toes. People can experience depression, muscle tremors, poor coordination, impaired memory, and nerve damage when a B12 deficiency progresses.
Vitamin B12 levels are typically tested with a standard blood test. Unfortunately, the standard test doesn’t show how well the body is using B12. To truly know if your body is utilizing B12, you need to get the MMA (methylmalonic acid) test. The results of the MMA test will let you know if you really are deficient and if you need to supplement.
There are several different types of B12 supplements, but if you are severely deficient, receiving B12 shots will be the most beneficial. If you are not severely deficient, you can supplement using sublingual B12, which will go directly into the bloodstream. One additional thing to remember is that you need to take the methylcobalamin form, which is the form that is best recognized by the body.
Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient for health. If you suspect you are deficient, ask your doctor to test you. Then you will know if you need to supplement with B12. Do you know anyone with a B12 deficiency?