According to Dr. Mercola vitamin B12, or rather a lack thereof, has been called the “canary in the coalmine” for your future brain health. Recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as you age.
According to the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume, which suggests a lack of the vitamin may lead to brain shrinkage.
This issue is of paramount importance for many of you reading this for two reasons:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency is very widespread
- Your blood level of vitamin B12 is not an adequate marker of whether or not you’re deficient, making vitamin B12 deficiency easy to miss
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a powerhouse micronutrient often known as the “energy vitamin” because it assists in energy production. Your body relies on the efficient conversion of carbohydrates to glucose — your body’s source of fuel — to run smoothly, and vitamin B12 plays a major role in that conversion. B12 also enables your body to convert fatty acids into energy. Further, your B12 level impacts a number of very important functions in your body, including:
- Carbohydrate and fat metabolism
- Healthy nervous system function
- Promotion of normal nerve growth and development
- Help with regulation of the formation of red blood cells
- Cell formation and longevity
- Proper circulation
- Adrenal hormone production
- Healthy immune system function
- Support of female reproductive health and pregnancy
- Feelings of well-being and mood regulation
- Mental clarity, concentration, memory function
- Physical, emotional and mental energy
Problems with Memory, Brain Function Top Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health. In addition to the latest Neurology study, which found more signs of shrinkage of brain tissue among those with low vitamin B12, a Finnish study published in Neurology last year found that people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s in their later years. For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin) the risk of developing Alzheimer’s was reduced by 2 percent. Research also shows that supplementing with B vitamins, including B12, helps to slow brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (brain atrophy is a well-established characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease).
What Causes B12 Deficiency? Vitamin B12 is the largest vitamin that we know of. Because of its large size, it is not easily absorbed passively like most supplements. Because of this, many, if not most oral B12 supplements are worthless and do NOT work. Vitamin B12 requires a complex system in your body involving intrinsic factor to bind to it so it can be actively absorbed in the end of your small intestine (terminal ileum). As you grow older the ability to produce intrinsic factor decreases and cause a deficiency state.
Studies from the U.S. Framingham trial show one in four adults are deficient in vitamin B12, and nearly half the population has suboptimal blood levels. If you eat an allvegetarian or vegan diet, vitamin B12 is one of the nutrients your body is most likely deficient in, as it is naturally present in foods that come from animals, including meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products. However, there are many other causes of B12 deficiency as well, including:
- Intrinsic factor is a protein made by your stomach. It grabs onto the B12 molecule and together they move through your stomach to your small intestine. When they reach the end of your small intestine, the intrinsic factor is absorbed first, pulling the B12 with it into the cells of your large intestine, where they are absorbed for use by the rest of your body.
- Increasing Age: Intrinsic factor diminishes as you age, and this means it’s virtually impossible to get B12 from your diet. This also means the older you get, the more likely you will need to supplement B12.
- Use of the drug metformin for Type 2 diabetes: Use of metformin (brand names include Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Riomet, and Glumetza) may inhibit your B12 absorption, especially at higher doses.
- Coffee consumption: Four or more cups of coffee a day can reduce your B vitamin stores by as much as 15 percent.
- Use of antacids: The use of antacids or anti-ulcer drugs will lower your stomach acid secretion and decrease your ability to absorb vitamin B12. Stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) is a crucial ingredient in your body’s ability to absorb B12. If you’re taking a medication specifically designed to reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce, your body’s ability to use vitamin B12 from the food you eat or the supplements you take will be significantly compromised.
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Exposure to nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
Signs and Symptoms to Watch For: Besides the above-mentioned mental fogginess and memory problems, there are actually a wide range of symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, from mild to severe, which can affect your body, mind and mood. In general, the signs are:
- Fatigue, lack of energy, muscle weakness, tingling in your extremities
- Mental fogginess or problems with your memory, trouble sleeping
- Mood swings, especially feelings of apathy or lack of motivation
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Neurological and Neuropsychiatric conditions
- Female fertility and childbearing problems
- Heart disease and cancer