Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vitamin B12 and your health

Vitamin B12 Gummies.Image by icethim via Flickr
The more avenues in nursing that I explore, and the more patients that I talk to, the more I see that many of our vague aches and pains come from nutritional deficiencies. And who of us can say that they are getting 100% optimum nutrition? Zero!This is particularly true as we live and grow older because digestive and malabsorption disorders become more common-along with numerous other health issues.

Have you found yourself the victim of any of the following:

Vague memory and lacking the mental alertness that  you need to do your job?

Occasional sleeplessness?

Lack of energy?

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be the cause of many mysterious ailments and malaise. This post will examine the importance of vitamin B12 and your health.

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods. Ironically, it is among those nutrients that have been removed from certain foods to extend the shelf life, and added to others to make them more nutritious or sold as supplements.

Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis. It is an essential in fat and protein metabolism which means that it is vital in digestion.  It is also important for hemoglogin synthesis.  These facts alone emphasize the impact of B12 on energy and mental acuity, since hemoglobin carries oxygen to all the cells in our body. And, certainly the impact on mental function is a biggie because our brains requires oxygen rich blood to function at optimal levels.

Recommended Intake

Recommended dietary intake is 2.4 mcg for males and females over the age of 14.  For pregnant and lactating females, the amount is 2.6 and 2.8 mcg respectively.

Foods containing vitamin B12 are found in animal products which includes fish, meat, milk, eggs, etc.

Experts previously thought that vegetarians were the main groups that developed vitamin B12 deficiency.  But this is not true, particularly in consideration of vitamin depleted foods and our poor eating habits. The young and the old are potential victims of this nutrient.

Causes of impaired absorption

Older people, as mentioned earlier are at risk due to overall health problems including digestive disorders such as ulcers (H.pylori)  which affect the body's ability to absorb this nutrient, as well as gastric surgery which impairs the body's ability to make the intrinsic factor which binds with B12  so that it can be absorbed in the small intestine.

Use of antacids and medications by older people also impairs the absorption of vitamin B12 since stomach acid is decreased and hydrochloric acid is important in enabling the body to use the vitamin.

Young people are at risk due to consuming large amounts of nutrient empty fast foods.  Sadly, school lunch programs, which often serve frozen meals with many additives, high sugar and fat content and not enough fresh foods and vegetables, contribute to the problem. Many school districts have come under attack for such meal programs.

In summary, preservatives, chemicals, pollution, medication, illness and stress collectively impact nutritional absorption of this vital nutrient.

Deficiency Diseases

What diseases do we fall prey to with lower than optimum levels of vitamin B12?  One primary chronic disease is cardiovascular disorder which is a number one killer in developed and developing nations. One of the reasons is due to elevated homocysteine levels in the blood which is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Dementia, depression, fatigue, anemia, impaired immunity, are among problems that can arise with vitamin B12 deficiency.  Of course, many other diseases have the same symptoms so it is important to speak with your health care provider regarding any new or unusual symptoms.
    In summary

    Be proactive in your health care, ask your doctor to perform lab work to assess your vitamin B levels.  Discuss supplementation, particularly if you have chronic ailments and/or unexplained nagging ailments.

    Review your medications and their impact on vitamin depletion. Also do research on your medications, especially new ones.

    Good health to you.

    Sources: Vitamin B12 fact sheet"

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