The USDA reports that nearly two-fifths (nearly 40%) of the U.S. population suffers from B-12 levels that are too low. A body that has a deficiency in B-12 can suffer with chronic fatigue and as well as the brain not functioning properly.
Vitamin B-12 though, does more than just support healthy energy levels and brain function. This vitamin is complex in how it works inside the body, as well as it has a wide range of health benefits.
It is essential for a number of biochemical processes in the body. B-12 is required for cellular metabolism and energy production, as well as synthesis and regulation of DNA, and including fatty acid production.
Are you getting enough?
First let's see how vitamin B-12 is produced.
Where Vitamin B-12 Comes From
You may be surprised to know that no fungi, plants, or animals, including humans are capable of synthesizing vitamin B-12. Only bacteria and archaea have the enzymes needed for its synthesis.
Manjunath Hegde, PhD a Chemical and Biomedical Engineer, who presently works as an investigator at Glaxo Smith and Kline explains in detail the synthesis of vitamin B-12.
Vitamin B-12 (Cobalamin) is a complex cobalt-based organic compound that is produced naturally only by bacteria, especially those that are anaerobic (environments that lack oxygen such as the large intestine).
Animals (including humans), plants, or fungi don’t have the enzymes to produce B-12. There hasn’t been enough studies done to identify B-12 producing bacterial species in different environments outside animals (including humans).
Some bacterial species possess all the genes required for B-12 synthesis (~30 genes or enzymes), and some collaborate with other species in their community to produce B-12 or B-12 like compounds.
It’s a complex process with more than 30 enzymatic steps and we still don’t understand enough about how much B-12 is actually produced by gut bacteria and how much of it is actually absorbed by the host.
Preliminary results show that, unlike other B-vitamins, humans don’t get enough B-12 just from bacteria in their gut, and need more of it through exogenous food sources.
Several probiotic bacterial species such as Lactic-acid bacetria (LAB)- Lactobacillus spp (species), Propionibacterium spp. or Bifidobacterium spp. can produce B-12 and other B-vitamins.
Whole genome sequencing is used to identify particular bacterial strains or a community of different bacteria in the human body that produce vitamin B-12.
Two species that possess all the genes for B-12 synthesis are Propionibacterium freudenreichii (A genetically-engineered strain of this bacteria is used to make B-12 commercially) and Lactobacillus reuteri (naturally found in the human digestive system).
Now let’s discuss in brief, how to recognize a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Recognizing A B-12 Deficiency
Vitamin B-12 deficiency can be slow to develop, causing symptoms to appear gradually and intensify over time. It can also come on relatively quickly.
Given the array of symptoms it can cause, the condition can be overlooked or confused with something else. Vitamin B-12 deficiency symptoms can include:
- strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
- difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- a swollen, inflamed tongue
- yellowed skin (jaundice)
- difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
- paranoia or hallucinations
While an experienced physician may notice the symptoms and be able to detect a vitamin B-12 deficiency with a good interview and physical exam, a blood test is needed to confirm the condition.
Early detection and treatment is important. “If left untreated, the deficiency can cause severe neurologic problems and blood diseases,” says Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Important Health Benefits Of Vitamin B-12
It is also called Cobalamin and occurs in 4 related compounds: cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin.
Vitamin B-12 plays a key role in how your body creates energy.
The nutrient releases energy into the cells and provides your body with the balance you need for thinking and moving throughout your day.
Kate Geagan, MS, RD wrote an article entitled – End Your Energy Crisis With Vitamin B-12.
Geagan says that insufficient B-12 levels in the short term can lead to chronic fatigue, mood changes, and dementia-like qualities, thus preventing you from feeling your best and performing at your highest energy level.
In the long term, vitamin B-12 deficiency if left unchecked, can lead to permanent nerve damage.
There are many things that can cause vitamin B-12 deficiency. These include, gastrointestinal surgeries or have gastrointestinal disorders (such as Crohn’s disease and IBS), taking certain medications (such as medications that suppress gastric acid production, or regular consumption of aspirin).
also if you are over the age of 50. How so?
Changes in the stomach lining as we age can reduce the production of gastric acid, and in this case, you no longer can unlock adequate amounts of B-12 from the foods you eat.
For this reason, it’s recommended that all Americans over the age of 50 consume 25-100 mcg a day of supplemental B-12.
Supplementation of vitamin B-12 (pill, powder, liquid, or sublingual form) is already in its free form and doesn’t require gastric acid for separation in the stomach.
Harvard University researcher Kilmer S. McCully, M.D. in 1969 presented a theory that hardening of the arteries was directly related to the amino acid homocysteine.
This processing defect in turn led to high blood levels of homocysteine and an extremely high risk of premature cardiovascular disease.
McCully explained that your heart and entire cardiovascular system needs vitamin B-12. One of its jobs is to remove homocysteine a dangerous protein from the blood.
If homocysteine is allowed to roam through the body’s blood stream, it can damage arteries leading to inflammation and heart disease.
Getting enough B-12 says McCully can help keep homocysteine levels down and help protect your heart.
Given that the traditional American diet is typically insufficient in the B vitamins, supplementation with vitamin B-12 is critical for those individuals susceptible to elevated homocysteine levels.
Your Bones Require It
When the level of the vitamin falls, the deficiency triggers the demineralization of the body’s bone structure.
In that study, the B-12 levels in 2500 study participants were measured along with bone mineral density.
The researchers found that people with low levels of vitamin B-12 also had low bone mineral densities.
Besides improving bone mineralization, vitamin B-12 also prevents the inflammation of the joints. It does this by inhibiting the immune cells responsible for inflammatory reactions.
Vitamin B-12 Protects The Nervousness System From Damage
Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, a scientific and medical consultant with experience in pharmaceutical and genetic research, says that when it comes to neurological concerns, the B-complex vitamins are especially important.
This group of vitamins have specific effects on brain cell functions and their deficiency leads to different neurological and psychological problems.
Wlassoff says that vitamin B-12 is essential for the proper functioning and development of the brain and nerve cells. It helps maintenance of the sheaths that cover and protect the nerves of the central and the peripheral nervous system, ensuring fast and effective nerve-impulse transmission.
A fatty substance called myelin is essential for the formation of these sheaths. Vitamin B-12 plays a significant role in the synthesis and maintenance of myelin. The neurological problems caused by B-12 deficiency later in life are due to the damage caused to the myelin sheath.
Protection For The Brain
Researchers have noted Alzheimer’s patients have much lower levels of B-12 than those of a similar age who have sharp, clear memory. In the same way B-12 helps protect nerve cells, it helps protect the myelin sheaths of brain cells that are often lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.
The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences published suggesting that a B-12 deficiency may cause a type of dementia in elderly patients that is in fact reversible with the right nutritional intervention.
Provides Healthy Emotions and Well-being
Your brain uses a chemical called serotonin to regulate your mood. If you aren’t getting enough B-12, you may find yourself feeling down. One study of diabetic patients experiencing side effects of depression from Metformin found those who took B-12 enjoyed a more positive outlook.
Metformin causes a vitamin B-12 deficit in the body, which is a principle cause of peripheral neuropathy.
Looking and Feeling Young
Aging happens when your cells begin to wear and tear, and they age faster when your DNA doesn’t replicate correctly.
Many factors can affect DNA replication, such as free radicals, toxins in the blood, high blood sugar, and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in your diet.
Vitamin B-12 supports DNA health, thereby keeping your cells younger. And when your cells are young, you look and feel young as well.