Herbal health columnist Nicola Parker writes about the benefits of vitamin B12
Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause a wide range of symptoms. Often these symptoms are vague and creep upon us slowly, so we may put them down to feeling run down, being stressed or getting older.
Deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause us to feel the kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away after taking a nap. It can cause problems with cognitive function, making thought processes sluggish, concentration difficult and memory worsen.
Some people may feel faint, dizzy or experience palpitations and breathlessness. People often describe feeling ‘not right’ but struggle to actually put their finger on anything specific, leading them to wonder if it’s all just in their head. Putting these things down to old age is a mistake, since B12 deficiency can lead to permanent problems if it’s not rectified.
Low B12 can increase your risk of dementia. A study done some years ago showed supplementation with B vitamins, including B12, slowed brain shrinkage in a group of people with age related memory loss. The study lasted two years and, in that time, results suggested that brain shrinkage could be reduced by half.
So naturally, it’s important to ensure that we have enough of this vital nutrient. Meat, eggs and fish are our main source of vitamin B12, with shellfish and some organ meats being the richest sources. However, low levels of B12 may not be linked to how much you eat, but rather how much you absorb. B12 absorption is reliant on something called intrinsic factor which is secreted in the stomach. Without intrinsic factor, you cannot absorb B12.
A condition called pernicious anaemic, involves damage to the cells that produce intrinsic factor. For people with pernicious anaemia, swallowing a B12 tablet will have little to no effect on their B12 levels. Instead, they are offered B12 injections by their GP, which bypasses the stomach and travel straight into the blood stream.
Pernicious anemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency but it is not the only thing that affects B12 absorption. Antacid medications like omeprazole and lanzoprazole affect absorption of various nutrients, including vitamin B12.
If you feel like you may be suffering with unexplained tiredness, fatigue, confusion and sluggishness, make an appointment with your doctor who may run a blood test to look at your vitamin B12 levels. If you take regular antacid medication, this is important, especially if you’ve been on this medication long term.
Alternatively, try a vitamin B12 supplement, but remember, if your problem is absorption, swallowing a tablet will be ineffective. Instead, try a sublingual version, either as a liquid or as a small tablet that you suck. Sublingual B12 is absorbed in the mouth, bypassing the stomach and going straight into the blood stream. I use a liquid B12, that is fast acting and makes deficiency obvious within the first week of supplementation. Vitamin B12 levels are restored rapidly, so it’s not uncommon to feel better almost immediately.
My favourite story about low B12 involved a lady who had a huge range of symptoms. She’d been to the doctor numerous times, feeling lethargic, irritable and finding it difficult to organise her thoughts and put them into words. She felt that this may have been part of the reason she hadn’t achieved any success with her GP, because in each appointment she could never manage to put across an accurate picture of how she was feeling.
After making a list of all her symptoms, I found myself feeling initially confused. This lady felt sure that something must be wrong, but none of her symptoms seemed to link together. As soon as she mentioned her medication, everything suddenly fell into place. Not only was this lady taking high strength omeprazole but she was needing to use Gaviscon and Rennies regularly throughout the day to manage her chronic heartburn.
I gave the lady my liquid, sublingual B12 and when she reported back in a few weeks, her cognitive symptoms were almost all resolved.
Nobody knows you, like you know you, so don’t allow your symptoms to be dismissed as old age or stress. Brain nutrition is essential to our long term health and something as simple as nutrient deficiency can be rectified rapidly.