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Essential B12

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Vitamin B12 is our basic foundation vitamin. This workhorse nutrient is responsible for a host of essential health functions and has many benefits.

Vitamin B12 is our basic foundation vitamin. It may not be sexy or miraculous, but this workhorse nutrient is responsible for a host of essential health functions. Everyone needs it!

Most important among B12’s functions is the task of perfect cell duplication, making this nutrient a crusader against the ravages of aging. B12 also helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells.

Important for Vegetarians

Most of us get all the B12 we need from animal foods: red meat, fish, and dairy products. However, little or no B12 is found in plant-based foods. Although vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly rare in healthy adults, it is common in strict vegetarians who eat no animal products.

B12 deficiency is also a problem in people with digestive system disorders such as chronic gastric reflux that limit the absorption of the nutrient, and in elderly people whose stomach acid production has dropped. That’s because B12 is absorbed into the body when hydrochloric acid in the stomach breaks down the protein and combines with a substance called intrinsic factor so the nutrient can be absorbed through the digestive tract.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency can include weight loss, lack of appetite, and constipation. Other common symptoms can include difficulty walking, confusion, irritability, and mild depression.

Boosts Brainpower

Sometimes the only symptom of B12 deficiency is a barely noticeable decrease in cognitive function. Over time, if the deficiency is not reversed, anemia and dementia that looks very similar to Alzheimer’s disease can develop.

A simple blood test for B12 level is essential, especially in someone who is elderly and in whom memory loss has been noticed. For all of those people, experts say, B12 supplementation is crucial.

The happy news is that B12 supplementation, in the form of B12 injections, will often significantly improve or even reverse the condition, says neurologist Allen Josephs, MD, author of Memory Loss Is Not Inevitable (Common Sense Publishing, 2007).

Prescription Drugs and B12

B12 supplements are also important for people who take certain types of prescription medications, especially for those with type 2 diabetes, says Hyla Cass, MD, author of Supplement Your Prescription (Basic Health, 2007).

Metformin, a commonly prescribed prescription medication for type 2 diabetes (once known as adult-onset diabetes), depletes B12 reserves in the human body, advises Cass. Research suggests that 10 to 30 percent of patients taking metformin have evidence of reduced vitamin B12 absorption.

For these people, who are often elderly and subject to digestive system-related B12 shortfalls, B12 supplementation is essential, she says. Cass recommends 200 to 500 mcg daily, with safe dosages up to 1,000 mcg. These quantities are far larger than the recommended daily allowance of 2.4 mcg, but Cass advocates larger dosages because they provide more absorbable quantities of B12 and there are no known risks of taking higher dosages. B12 is available as an injection, capsule, and in liquid form.

Further Benefits of B12

While research is not yet conclusive, some evidence suggests that B12 supplements help lower homocysteine levels and thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Since there is no toxicity associated with vitamin B12, you can safely take the amounts you’ll need for long life, heart and digestive health, and blood sugar control.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for B12 is 2.4 mcg a day for adults, a level that is easily achieved with normal eating patterns. Most fortified breakfast cereals contain the RDA of B12. Better yet, get your B12 with a 3 oz (about 90 g) serving of any of the following:

  • Clams (84 mcg)
  • Beef liver (47.9 mcg)
  • Trout (5.4 mcg)
  • Salmon (4.9 mcg)
  • Lean beef (2.4 mcg)


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