Vitamin B12 is one of the most important nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy, yet it is often overlooked. B12 works by keeping your nerves and blood cells in top shape, as well as aiding in the production of DNA. It also helps the body absorb folic acid and prevents megaloblastic anemia (a condition in which red blood cell counts are low), which makes sufferers tired and weak. Our bodies absorb B12 from food as stomach acid separates it from dietary proteins and combines it with a glycoprotein secreted by the stomach walls called intrinsic factor (or gastric intrinsic factor).
Without intrinsic factor, no vitamin B12 can be absorbed regardless of intake. Some people develop pernicious anemia because their body doesn’t produce intrinsic factor, making it impossible to absorb B12 from food and oral supplements. B12 is mostly found in animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese and shellfish. Vegans can get their B12 from supplements and from fortified foods. Specific bacterial cultures are used to fortify these foods. Non-dairy milk, breakfast cereals, meat substitutes and nutritional yeast often include this vital nutrient.
If a person is lacking intrinsic factor to bind and absorb B12, B12 supplements are available that can be taken sublingually (under the tongue), as a spray or via injection. Regular oral B12 supplements won’t be absorbed if your body is not producing intrinsic factor. The US Recommended Dietary Allowance of B12 for adults 14 years and older is 2.4 mcg. It’s recommended that pregnant and lactating women get between 2.6 and 2.8 mcg per day. For children 9-13 years old, the number drops to 1.8 mcg.
B12 AND AGING
New research has shown that B12 levels decrease significantly with age and low B12 levels are also connected to other neurological conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia. Richard Deth, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) College of Pharmacy, led a team of international researchers who discovered that B12 levels in the brain decreased significantly in the elderly and were much lower in people with autism and schizophrenia. "These are particularly significant findings because the differences we found in brain B12 with aging, autism and schizophrenia are not seen in the blood, which is where B12 levels are usually measured." said Dr. Deth. "The large deficits of brain B12 from individuals with autism and schizophrenia could help explain why patients suffering from these disorders experience neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms." A form of B12, Methylcobalamin, known as Methyl B12, is a necessary nutrient needed for proper brain development. As a result of this study, it was found that otherwise healthy elderly adults have 10 times less Methyl B12 than younger people.
That’s not all. Lower levels of Methyl B12 in young people seem to be connected to neurological problems later in life. Scientists at the Rush University Medical Center reported in Neurology magazine that the elderly people with low vitamin B12 levels tend to suffer from cognitive decline and even brain shrinkage. They tested 121 seniors aged 65 or older, taking blood samples as well as testing their memory and cognitive abilities. 52 months later, they did MRI scans to see if any brain damage had occurred during that time. It was found that those tested who had at least four out of five markers for B12 deficiency were much more likely to have lower test scores and even smaller brain volumes than in the first round of testing.
This connection appears to be due to the oxidative stress that is often associated with autism and schizophrenia. The same oxidative stress is evident with aging and could be the cause for the lower B12 levels in the brain. The researchers concluded that more study was needed to see if Methyl B12 supplements would actually help to fight oxidative stress and potentially treat those issues. To learn more about this exciting new research, check out the article in Science Daily.
The best way to check your vitamin B12 levels is through B12 testing. This is a blood test used to find deficiencies and to help diagnose any potential anemias that may result. This test may also be used, along with other tests, to evaluate those who are demonstrating behavioral changes or altered mental states, especially in the elderly. If you believe you might be anemic and/or deficient in B12, your B12 test may be accompanied by folate testing and other screenings like a complete blood count (CBC) and a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), among others.
It is important, especially as we age, to make sure our bodies and brains remain in optimum shape. Test early and test often to get ahead of any neurological symptoms that may develop later in life.
ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/ www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160122144730.htm www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/172774.php labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/vitamin-b12/tab/test/