The Importance of Vitamin B12
As we age, our bodies ability to absorb and utilize vitamins and minerals slowly declines. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3.2 percent of adults over age 50 are deficient in vitamin B12. Another 20 percent of adults may have borderline deficient levels of vitamin B12.
“The importance of Vitamin B12 as an effective anti-aging nutrient is becoming increasingly well-known to healthcare professionals. Recent studies show that a sufficient level of this essential nutrient is needed by the body to reduce homocysteine (an amino acid) levels, protect the heart and arteries, support the weight of brain matter, promote mental energy and good mood, nerve comfort, protect memory function, and support hearing health. Vitamin B12 is also required for energy, stamina, and blood cell formation and division. Those going through periods of stress may have increased demand for B12, as it is involved in the production of stress hormones; this means that our bodies need more of it during times of high stress.”
Vitamin B12 is found in foods such as meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products but not plants. This potentially becomes a problem for vegetarians and vegans as their primary food source are plants and greens.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The Framingham study found the prevalence of B12 deficiency (megaloblastic and pernicious anemia) to be much higher than previously expected, at 39% of the study population. A B12 deficiency can exhibit many symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and skin pallor, and may lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia and neurologic dysfunction. B12 deficiency can also lead to easy bruising or bleeding, as well as bleeding gums. Digestive symptoms include sore tongue, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea and/or constipation. Nerve cell damage can result when B12 deficiency is not corrected, leading to tingling or numbness to the fingers and toes, difficulty walking, frequent mood changes, occasional depression, memory loss and disorientation. B12 is also required for proper use of folic acid by the body.
Lisa Cimperman, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that weakness and fatigue are some of the first signs of B12 deficiency because your body relies on the vitamin to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs. Without enough oxygen, Cimperman explains, you’ll feel tired no matter how much you sleep. Don’t be alarmed just yet, however! If fatigue is your only symptom, it is possible a B12 deficiency is not the culprit. Schedule a visit with your doctor to review all of your symptoms.
In an article entitled, “The Benefits of B Vitamins“, Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND states further symptoms, “Other signs of low B12 include psychosis, weakness, paleness, sore tongue, bleeding, weight loss, changes in bowel movement, and nerve damage.” Many times, you can pile numerous food items that are high in B12 onto your plate, but if you have an issue with absorbing vitamin B12, simply consuming foods that are high in vitamin B12 is not enough. In fact, the CDC recommends “all people 51 years of age and older should get most of their daily vitamin B12 through supplements containing vitamin B12 or foods fortified with vitamin B12.”
For more information on this important vitamin, visit the CDC’s website or speak to your primary physician directly.