Along with the other B vitamins, B12 is responsible for releasing energy from food, healthy nerves, the formation of blood and other cells, mental health and much more. Deficiency at its worst causes pernicious anaemia, (possibly) contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, psychoses and heart disease. The symptoms that often present initially are mood swings, insomnia, lacking energy and tingling in the hands and feet.
It is very easy to become vitamin B12 deficient today. Life is so very different to how it was one hundred or even fifty years ago when home cooking was all that was available and nothing as wasted. We are a “fast” society now and everything has to be pronto – many don’t cook anymore – preferring microwave meals. We eat on the hoof just to fill our stomachs quickly with scant regard for the food’s nutritional value or whether we will digest it properly. It is incredible to me that people complain about the cost of food whilst buying ready meals and takeaways and it will contribute to becoming B12 deficient in our modern times.
Even if you care about your health, it is possible to become deficient in this vitamin. Those who are vegetarian through choice could be at risk. Likewise those who are vegetarian or vegan for religious or other reasons often miss out on this essential nutrient.
Some illnesses prevent B12 being utilised. The reason I call this the “finicky” vitamin is due to its metabolism. Simply, a protein called “intrinsic factor” found in the stomach juices binds itself to B12 to allow absorption. Most foods are digested and absorbed during the long journey through the small intestine. Not B12 though! There is a small area between the small and large intestines reserved for just this purpose. Because of this rather complicated process, illnesses affecting the gut can disrupt it at all stages.
- Fast foods; even if any B12 is present, they are consumed quickly with minimal mastication and washed down with a drink of some sort. If foods are not chewed thoroughly, they cannot be digested effectively in the stomach. When food is accompanied by large quantities of fluid, the stomach acid is diluted and therefore, the intrinsic factor will be also. This can lead to the use of…
- Antacids, reflux and ulcer medicines; these lower the acidity in the stomach making the digestion of B12-containing proteins difficult to digest thereby preventing its release from the food.
- Ageing; stomach acid naturally reduces as we age leading to a similar situation as above.
- Gut disorders; people who suffer the diseases that cause ulceration of the gut lining and diarrhoea are at risk. This includes sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (IBD).
- Other drugs; diabetes medications, statins, birth control pills and antibiotics. There is a more comprehensive list and lots more information here.
So what can we do to maximise our chances of maintaining optimum levels of B12? It would be far too easy for me to say that those people suffering from illnesses should seek to become well again (and some of the diseases I have named here are reversible) but nonetheless, action has to be taken one way or another! The best way to supplement B12 is by injection thus bypassing the complicated metabolic process. Or by sub-lingual drops. This is necessary for vegans too, as useful B12 is only present and available in animal foods. For vegetarians – kefir, organic cheeses and eggs are essential. The best sources for the rest of us are organic offal meats, shellfish as well as the above. To improve the uptake of B12 chew food thoroughly, don’t drink too much with meals so as not to dilute stomach acid and eat slowly. To stimulate stomach acid, eat fresh sauerkraut as a part of your meals, or a spoonful just a few minutes before a meal. Apple cider vinegar can be used too.
Above all, if you don’t or can’t cook please do something about it. The health of families starts in kitchens!