Vitamin B12 — Side A
August 22, 2014
I've titled this article "Side A" because this will be a two-part article; I can't get it under 1,000 words. There is just too much information that I think you must digest in order to understand the relationship between neurological issues and B12 deficiency. On side A, we'll discuss the causes, and on the side B we'll discuss the fixes.
There are some great resources for solving complex issues available to us today that were just not there in the past. Take vitamin B12 deficiency for example. Until professionals started sharing information about the topic, people suffered from debilitating and deadly symptoms that could have been fixed with over-the-counter supplements. In today's information society we have the opportunity to logically sift through a much greater base of human experiences to find better ways to improve health and well-being. Quite often we think we have something figured only later to find that we were wrong. Not too long ago we were so sure the earth was flat that we killed heretics over it.
B12 deficiency is not quite that dramatic. Nor is it that exciting of an issue perhaps because we have known about it for a long time and the fix is simple. This makes for boring medical news, especially when there is Ebola to chat about over lunch. But the stats consistently indicate a bigger problem.
Data from the Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggest that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range — a range at which many experience neurological symptoms. Nine percent had outright deficiency, and 16 percent exhibited "near deficiency." Low B12 levels were as common in younger people as they were in the elderly.
Data from the Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggest that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range — a range at which many experience neurological symptoms.
B12 deficiency has been estimated to affect about 40 percent of people over 60 years of age.
It's entirely possible that at least some of the symptoms we attribute to "normal" aging — such as memory loss, cognitive decline, decreased mobility, etc. — are at least in part caused by B12 deficiency.
It may go undetected because the symptoms are similar to many other disorders. Many experts also believe that tolerable levels for B12 in the U.S. are much lower than in other countries. For instance in Japan they have a much higher tolerance level for B12, and there are also much lower rates of Alzheimer's and dementia. This must be yet another coincidental, unprovable correlation.
What is vitamin B12 and why do you need it?
Vitamin B12 works together with folate in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells. It's also involved in the production of the myelin sheath around the nerves, and the conduction of nerve impulses. You can think of the brain and the nervous system as a big tangle of wires. Myelin is the insulation that protects those wires and helps them to conduct messages. All this stuff is pretty important.
I know what you're thinking: Where can I get some B12, and how can I be assured I am absorbing it?
I am not a big supplement advocate. I think that they should be treated similar to drugs — only use them if you are sure that you need them, based on objective advice. Some people, for many reasons, will not absorb B12 (and many other things for that matter) through food. This is why all supplements were initially invented. Don't confuse the term "supplements" with the onslaught of weight-loss-diet-crap that makes up a billion-plus-dollar business in our country. I'm talking about actual food derivatives that were created by doctors and scientists to help the body absorb stuff it needs when there is a different problem that is holding up natural processes.
Here are some of the cool reasons you may not be absorbing B12 even if you are supplementing with it.
• intestinal microbial imbalance (too much or too little and/or alien microbes in your intestines)
• leaky gut and/or gut inflammation (yes, leaky gut is a real diagnosis)
• atrophic gastritis (inflammation of stomach mucosa) or hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)
• pernicious anemia (autoimmune condition)
• medications (especially PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) and other acid-suppressing drugs)
• alcohol consumption (drinking enough to balance out the stress of reading this)
• exposure to nitrous oxide (during surgery or "recreational use")
This is why you can't just eat raw liver every day to get your B12; as if you'd want to.
Look for next week's follow-up article to find simple ways to fix the problem.
Disclaimer: Steve Wells is neither a nutritionist nor a doctor. He merely passes on information that makes sense and stimulates the necessary questions it takes to solve complex human issues. Please feel free to argue with him about any topic at Midland Fitness 945-4440.
"Could it Be B12" — Sally M. Pacholok and Jeffrey J. Stuart
"The B12 Deficiency Survival Handbook" — Dr. Aqsa Ghazanfar and Regev Elya