Are you often tired? Are you in a bad mood? You may be suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency. Find out about its benefits and how to get enough of it.
Vitamin B12: its role in the body
Vitamin B12 also called cobalamin, is essential for cell reproduction, especially for red blood cells. It preserves myelin, the protective sheath of the nerves, and is involved, among other things, in the production of substances that affect mood and the psyche.
In combination with folic acid (vitamin B9) and vitamin B6, vitamin B12 helps the body reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It also has beneficial effects on the nerves and is thought to prevent various neurological disorders as well as the numbness and tingling of the extremities often associated with diabetes. Vitamin B12 may also play a positive role in the treatment of certain types of depression.
Take vitamin B12 with folic acid
It is available as ampoules, tablets, capsules, and tablets. Taking a supplement must be accompanied by a supplement of folic acid: a high intake of one of these vitamins may mask a deficiency in the other.
The diagnosis of pernicious anemia should be made by a doctor, and regular blood tests should be done. If you are undergoing medical treatment, consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Vitamin B12 is the only one of the eight B vitamins that the body stores in large amounts, mainly in the liver. Low stomach acid levels or insufficient production of intrinsic factor – frequently related to age – can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. It can take years for a deficiency to develop because the body has large reserves.
Vitamin B12 for heart disease and depression
In most cases, the diet provides enough vitamin B12. But it becomes more difficult to assimilate after the fifties. However, even a slight deficiency increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and depression.
Vitamin B12 is used for:
Prevent a particular form of so-called pernicious anemia (caused by malabsorption of the vitamin);
Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease;
Relieve nerve pain and numbness and tingling of the extremities;
Vitamin B12 deficiency leads to fatigue, depression, numbness, and tingling of the extremities due to nervous disorders, muscle fatigue, confusion, and memory loss. This is a good idea to resort to supplements if you are concerned that your diet may not be providing you enough.
Against neurological and immune diseases
Low levels of vitamin B12 are often seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but there is no indication whether this deficiency contributes or results from the disease. Research shows that getting the right amount of B12 improves immune responses in older people and may reduce hearing loss and tinnitus.
Either way, it is a nutritional element necessary for a healthy immune system. Some studies suggest that vitamin B12 could delay the time between infection with HIV and the development of AIDS, but this remains to be verified.
Vegetarian and vegan diets
In a properly designed vegetarian diet, there is no shortage of micronutrients. They are sometimes even present in higher amounts than in ordinary food. However, certain minerals and vitamins are more abundant and more easily assimilated in animal products.
Sorry for vegetable lovers: vegetables do not contain vitamin B12. The latter is only found in meat, eggs, poultry, and products that come directly from animals. This means that vegetarians and especially vegans are at a high risk of deficiency in vitamin B12 and D, riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc, and iodine. But you can always fall back on a few fortified cereals – some breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts – to get that much-needed vitamin.
Foods of animal origin are the main source of vitamin B12, whether it is meat or fish, organ meats or seafood, eggs, cheese, milk or dairy products. Brewer’s yeast and algae also contain small amounts. Note that cereals are frequently fortified with this vitamin.
Although mealworms, or Tenebrio molitor, contain as much protein as beef, they contain much more vitamin B12 than beef. Indeed, the content of some insects in vitamin B12 is up to 10 times higher than that of cattle. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the B12 content at 0.47 µg per 100g of mealworms (2013).
The recommended dose
The recommended daily allowance is 2.4 μg (microgram). Most people get this daily dose naturally by getting a reasonable amount of protein.
To prevent anemia associated with a very strict vegetarian diet, 5 to 10 mcg per day is recommended. For the elderly, a supplement of 10 to 25 μg per day would be beneficial.
Deficiency and diet
In case of deficient intake: this condition can progress to dementia or pernicious anemia, both reversible provided they are treated early. Insufficient production of intrinsic factor requires much higher therapeutic doses (of the order of 1000 μg per day). It is often necessary to take vitamin B12 in the form of injections prescribed by the doctor.
In case of excess intake: the excess is simply eliminated in the urine. The maximum tolerable intake for vitamin B12 has not been defined, as there is no evidence of adverse effects at high doses. These can color the urine red, so don’t worry. However, it is advisable to take a supplement only once a day, preferably in the morning or with a meal.
One egg or a bowl of milk provides more than 25% of the recommended daily allowance of B12. A meat or fish dish respectively provides 100% of this contribution.
Elderly people with mild vitamin B12 deficiency would not get the maximum protection from the pneumonia vaccine. A study of 30 elderly people found that after vaccination they produced fewer antibodies against the bacteria that cause pneumonia when their B12 stores were low, making them more vulnerable to the disease.
Many older people suffer from vitamin deficiency. Age sometimes causes atrophic gastritis which reduces the production of gastric juice as well as intrinsic factors, resulting in decreased absorption. When provided by supplements or fortified foods, the vitamin is better absorbed by the body because it does not require stomach acid to be separated from dietary protein.
B12 levels also decrease with ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and other gastrointestinal illnesses, chronic dyspepsia, gout, and with the use of anti-epileptic drugs and birth control pills. It is also good to know that alcohol abuse interferes with your absorption.
Vitamin B12 against mosquitoes?
It is a popular belief that consuming vitamin B1 or vitamin B12 protects against mosquitoes. Vitamin B12 is said to give your body a smell that repels mosquitoes. In fact, several studies tend to show that taking these vitamins is ineffective.
Most alternatives to topically applied repellents have proven ineffective. No ingested compound, including garlic and thiamine (vitamin B1), has been shown to repel biting arthropods.
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