According to recent research, one in four adults in the United States alone suffers from vitamin B12 deficiency. That’s a huge percentage, given that most people think they get enough of the vitamin from meat and dairy.
Vitamin B12 is the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver for many years (1). It only gets released from the liver when our serum B12 levels are low. Because B12 is such an important nutrient in the body, the body always makes sure that it has some in stock.
What is The Function of Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 benefits your mood, energy level, memory, heart, skin, hair, digestion and more. It is essential for addressing adrenal fatigue, multiple metabolic functions, as well as maintaining a healthy nervous and cardiovascular system (2).
I always like to highlight the role of B12 in regards to the nervous system, because without it, our nervous system would be shot. Not only does vitamin B12 help maintain the health of nerve cells and neurotransmitter signalling, but it forms a protective covering of nerves, otherwise known as the myelin sheath. This is why so many people with vitamin B12 deficiencies also suffer from cognitive decline.
Problems with the nervous system can affect all avenues of our health – so it’s important we keep our levels high.
What Causes Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
According to a study done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, up to 39 percent of the population likely suffers from a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Since Vitamin B12 cannot be produced by the body, and has to be ingested, it is often the case that people simply aren’t getting enough in their diet, or that something is impeding the digestion of B12 in the body.
Microorganisms, primarily bacteria, are the only organisms known to manufacture B12. They live in the water, soil, and digestive tracts of animals. In animals, B12 often attaches to a protein either for transport or storage.
Most meat-eaters receive plenty of B12 from the animal products they consume, whereas vegetarians and vegans can consume this vitamin by eating algae, nutritional yeast and seaweed. While these sources often are not enough, it is suggested that vegans and vegetarians also take a high-quality B12 supplement.
Thoroughly washing produce, and consuming highly-processed foods is another way we have made our food completely devoid of vitamin B12. The triple-washed salad likely has zero remaining beneficial bacteria on it that could nourish our B12 needs in the body.
While some people may find it gross to eat produce that isn’t washed, I’ve been doing it for years and have never gotten sick. I only choose organic produce, and if there is a little bit of dirt, I usually just wipe it away with my hand and leave whatever residues might be left. This might be too far-fetched for some people, so if that grosses you out and you’re a vegetarian or vegan, opt for a supplement.
We can also get a vitamin B12 deficiency (yes, both meat eaters and vegetarians and vegans) from having poor digestibility of the vitamin itself. If you’ve ever drank a lot of alcohol, gone through a round of antibiotics, or been vaccinated, B12 will have a very hard time absorbing in the body (3). Alcohol, antibiotics and other prescription drugs, and vaccines can all destroy the intrinsic binding factor in our stomach which is needed for B12 absorption. This is also the case why so many people are B12 deficient.
Aside from stomach problems, B12 may also not absorb properly if you suffer from any auto-immune conditions (like pernicious anemia), Chron’s or Celiac’s disease, or if you’re over the age of 50 (4). When you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from foods, because you produce less stomach acid, which is vital for nutrient absorption.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Since the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are often not very specific, the deficiency can go unnoticed for a very long period of time – that is, until symptoms start showing up. A vitamin B12 deficiency can also be easily mistaken for other conditions, and therefore remains misdiagnosed.
Research suggests that methylmalonic acid (MMA) and holotranscobalamin (holoTC) testing may be more accurate at reading low B12 levels, because they represent active B12. Don’t just get a basic B12 testing at the doctors office – ask for these two specific readings, as they will show much more about your B12 levels.
A vitamin B12 deficiency could manifest itself in the following ways (5,6,7,8):
– Loss of balance and confusion
– Anemia (megaloblastic anemia and pernicious anemia)
– Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
– Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness and problems walking
– Constipation, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, or gas
– Vision loss
– Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
– Mental health problems in more severe cases (like psychosis, depression and anxiety)
– Alzheimer’s disease
– Heart disease
The Best B12 To Supplement
The best vitamin B12 to supplement, hands down, is one that contains both methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. My favourite brand is VeganSafe B12. Methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are the two most bioactive forms of vitamin B12, and are both necessary when taking a supplement.
If you come across any B12 supplements that are just cyanocobalamin, don’t even consider purchasing them. Always look for methyl- and adenosyl- in the same supplement.