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Do You Have a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Supplement This Key Nutrient

Tired? Depressed? Forgetting things? Finding it hard to sleep? Feeling run down? Isn’t everyone? With the economy stalled, prices on the rise and information overload it seems as though we are all in a constant stupor, feeling overwhelmed and “under the gun”.

If you listen to the pundits or newscasters it’s  the fault of politicians and there is no hope of pulling out of the country’s malaise. However there is a simple inexpensive way to rise up and conquer your own personal rut.

Lack of energy, depression, forgetfulness, difficulty sleeping and feeling run down (and in some cases beaten down) are all symptoms of a deficiency of B12, a key nutrient needed to make red blood cells and DNA and keep the nervous system working properly.

For decades, vitamin B12 deficiency was thought to be quite rare because it was believed we were getting enough from our beef and dairy based diets. The only concern was for the elderly as B12 levels go down as you age. However, thanks to the US Framingham trial (a large scale trial researching risk for cardiovascular disease following 3 generations in over 5000 families for 60+ years), we now know this to be false. Vitamin B12 deficiency is in fact one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. The Framingham trial found that 25% of adults in the US are deficient and nearly 50% of the population has suboptimal levels of B12.

Researchers looked at B12 levels across the adult population because most previous studies focused only on those believed to be at higher risk of deficiency - the elderly. The results were surprising. The youngest group '26 to 49-year-olds' had about the same B12 status as the oldest group '65 and over'. “We saw a high prevalence of low B12 even among the youngest group.”

Additionally we now know that people taking acid-blocking medications and those with Type 2 diabetes who take the drug Metformin (one of the most commonly prescribed drugs) are also at high risk of B12 deficiency. Unfortunately since the Metformin connection was discovered only recently, some physicians aren't aware of it. Many assume that if patients complain of numbness and tingling in the feet, it's a diabetes issue and not a B12 issue.

Vitamin B12 plays an integral part in red blood cell production. It is due to this that often people with iron issues also have B12 issues. It makes logical sense as foods high in vitamin B12 are the same foods high in iron. If you don't eat enough of these foods, which include all types of meat, you can develop both types of anemia. In some cases a deficiency in one (iron or B12) will mask a deficiency in the other. To avoid this issue doctors routinely treat iron issues with both iron and B12.

The key to ensuring that you are getting enough B12 is to have a well rounded diet. Food sources include meat, liver, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products. However if you are a vegetarian, vegan or just don’t eat a varied diet or a lot of animal products you will need to supplement.

Unfortunately some people have trouble absorbing B12 in the first place. Stomach acid is needed to release it from food particles. So people with digestive issues and the elderly (we naturally have reduced stomach acid as we age) are required to supplement.

B12 supplements use one of two forms of the vitamin cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the synthetic chemical form whereas methylcobalamin is the natural bioactive form that is readily absorbed and used by your body. Compared with cyanocobalamin, it appears that methylcobalamin is better retained in higher amounts within your tissues.

One of the nice features of vitamin B12 becomes apparent if you take too much. There is no negative affect. Taking too much (food, supplement or both) just results in your body using what it needs and excreting the remainder. Since your body does not keep stores of B12 you need to ensure you have enough every day.

Ideally consumers should look to supplement with a liquid sublingual methylcobalamin (or Active B12) supplement. A sublingual vitamin B12 supplement is absorbed under your tongue, removing the requirement for sufficient gastric juices in your stomach. The most frequent dose is 1000mcg daily. There are several supplement brands out there that offer good tasting Sublingual Active B12 to help get you out of your rut and enjoy life!


Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.