There’s been quite a handful of buzz over B12 lately and I have heard much nonsense about it. My little sister is a lovely vegan who I want to dedicate this article to, as she catches much fire from her meat-loving social ties.
The main points we’ll be discussing here are the causes, symptoms and risks of a vitamin B12 deficiency, and of course ways of avoidance and treatment for this condition.
Where Does B12 Come From ?
Most people believe that vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal sources, while the truth is that neither animals nor plants are able to synthesize it. This vitamin actually comes from a gut microorganism that manufacture B12 out of cobalt which they get from the soil (eating cobalt-rich plants).
Without cobalt, they can not manufacture B12, which is why grain-fed cattle lack so much of it. Practically speaking, all B12 foods content of this vitamin is originated from it. Plants usually contain some amount of B12-analogues (phyto-cobalamin), molecules that resemble B12 but can’t be used by animals.
Our intestine contains this very same bacteria that produces B12 in our own body, but information is quite vague over it’s absorption effectiveness. Anyway – first, we want to understand some of the things this vitamin actually does in our body and why B12 deficiency is a serious matter.
Vitamin B12 is required for red blood cells to properly form and for tissues to grow. It lowers the levels of Homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cancer development and many of today’s diseases. It also plays a vital part in DNA replication and helps forming a protective fatty insulation substance called Myelin around your nerve cells.
The good news are, for the above vitamin B12 benefits, we only need 2-3 mcgs (MICROgrams) a day of this vitamin! That’s why it can take years for your B12 stores to deplete. (Our body effectively stores B12, mainly in the liver but also in the kidneys and muscles). This is also why relatively few people ever develop a vitamin B12 deficiency out of *consumption* reasons.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Causes
Even if you stopped consuming this vitamin completely as some point, a deficiency may take YEARS to develop, as your body stores this vitamin. Symptoms of B12 vitamin deficiency usually show up when:
- Improper absorption of B12, by conditions such as Crohn’s or Coeliac diseases, but usually by Intrinsic Factor (IF) production difficulties. IF is a protein in the stomach, necessary for the absorption of B12.
- Toxins destroying your B12 (cyanide in cigarettes for example).
- Other things competing for your B12, usually parasites. For people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an inflammatory disease in which Myelin is destroyed, B12 might be used as it’s manufacturer, as your body attempts to replace the lost Myelin.
- Not consuming enough B12, of course. You may eat plenty of meat, but remember that the average western farm raises meat on grains (like corn), and a very limited amount of cobalt is being consumed for their gut microorganism to produce enough B12. Solution? go hunt something.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
First, we want to consider the fact that each and every one of these B12 vitamin deficiency symptoms might be the result of something else, so let’s not jump off the chair if we notice something familiar. The more symptoms you have, the more likely they are to be the result of a B12 deficiency. There is also no difference, in scientific literature, as far as I have been exposed, between the symptoms of b12 deficiency in women and men. Let’s take a closer observation on the symptoms:
- Fatigue/Tiredness. Probably the most common symptom, but bear in mind that it is something common to MANY other ailments. Your body feels weak when it’s sick, nothing surprising.
- Shortness of breath.
- Mental problems such as poor memory, confusion, disorientation, dizziness, unsteadiness, disturbed sleeping, concentration difficulties and even irritability, delusions and/or depression.
- Pale skin.
- White spots, usually on the outside skin of the forearm. They become whiter and drier as time passes.
- Loss of appetite.
- Random tingles on the edge of the tongue, hands (usually on the palm crease), feet and/or thighs.
- Sores in the corners of the mouth.
- Headaches, random facial pains and/or vision difficulties (eye twitches and even temporary blind-spots).
- Sharp nerve shocks in either side of the body, sometimes occurring one right quickly after each other.
Again, as already mentioned, vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms in women are same as for men, and there’s no need to differentiate between the sexes. There are of course some other possible indications of a deficiency, but these are the common ones. If you suspect you have a B12 deficit, make sure you go to your physician and check yourself. You might not even notice anything if that’s a borderline deficiency, so it’s worth going for a B12 blood test anyway.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Risks
a B12 vitamin deficiency, after not being treated for a long time, can possibly cause serious irreversible damage, mainly to the nervous system and brain, and can result in a permanent nerve damage if left untreated. The longer the symptoms have been present, the lesser the chance of a complete reversal after treatment.
Usually the deficiency lead to a very serious type of anemia, pernicious anemia (also called “Biermer’s anemia”), where red blood cells are badly formed and white blood cell count is at the bottom. This anemia is also known as “Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia”, and might lead to anorexia, weight loss, diarrhea, spasticity, ataxia, hyperreflexia, and in extremities - even coma and death.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Treatment: How Do I Fill My Stores ?
Okay, so now we know how to recognize vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms, why they show up, and what risks are involved. but what are we actually supposed to do ?
First of all, if you suspect you have a deficiency – consult your doctor, don’t make your own diagnosis. Although doctors are usually weak sources of nutritional information, they can blood-test you and determine whether your symptoms are actually the result of a B12 vitamin deficiency, or something else.
If your doctor says you have a deficiency, make sure he tests for parasites. There are some herbal parasite cleanses over there that may do the job very well. Your doctor will probably prescribe daily vitamin B12 shots to you, moving to weekly and monthly as time passes and B12 levels rise again.
You have plenty of options to use as supplements, such as a vitamin B12 injections, sublingual tablets, and intranasal sprays or gel. I should also mention that if you have Gastric Intrinsic Factor production problems in the stomach, your body will not be able to process B12 from tablets, by the same reason it can not process it from food.
You may notice that supplements usually contain a lot more than the recommended daily amount of Vitamin B12, but you should not worry about that. It appears to be safe enough. Even so, not nearly as much of it is absorbed. Always remember that prevention is the best treatment for vitamin b12 deficiency, or any other health issue.
Notice that there’s a difference between the different forms of B12 - cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. The two former doesn’t seem to be effective for everyone, while the two latter work the best for most people. They are the natural solution and can be purchased if required.
I hope things got clearer. I believe our health is our most valuable asset.
“A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs.” – Joan Welsh.
Update: Check out Eli’s B12 shots case study. I have recently interviewed him for the sake of curiosity.
Update II: Due to some requests – here’s the vitamin B12 RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance).
Having a question? Ever had a B12 deficiency? Share your thoughts and experiences using the comment box below.