What is Vitamin B12 and Why is it important?
Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins and is also known as Cobalamin. It is the most complex vitamin in the human body. It is essential for a range of healthy bodily functions including the production of red blood cells, the health of the nervous system, immune function and sperm production.
There is also evidence to suggest that Vitamin B12 reduces cancer risk and the chances of suffering from heart disease.
The fact that the body does not store this important substance efficiently means that to avoid the levels of Vitamin B12 depleting rapidly it must be regularly absorbed into the body from food.
Fortunately, research is uncovering various conditions and illnesses that are thought to be linked to a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is found in quite a wide range of foods but because it is only produced by bacterial fermentation-synthesis, it is only found naturally in animal products.
It is commonly added to foods and is available as a supplement or as a vitamin B12 spray. Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet can easily become deficient in vitamin B12 or they may absorb enough to avoid severe deficiency but not to protect against the risk of heart disease or dangerous complications during pregnancy.
For this reason vegetarians and vegans should be especially aware of their vitamin B12 intake. The body can safely take on high doses of vitamin B12 because any that is not needed can be either stored or excreted.
The following are sources rich in vitamin B12;
Lamb’s liver and pork liver are amongst the richest sources of vitamin B12. Lamb’s liver provides 85.7μg (1428% RDA) of vitamin B12 per 100g serving, a truly impressive vitamin B12 content.
Shellfish are another excellent source of vitamin B12, especially oysters, clams and mussels. These also provide other important substances such as zinc, copper and iron in significant amounts.
Clams contain 98.9μg per 100g serving, accounting for 1648% of the RDA. That is 84μg (1401% RDA) per 3 ounce serving, and 187.9μg (3132% RDA) in 20 small clams, or 9.4μg (156.6 %RDA) in one small clam!
Crab and lobster are also high in vitamin B12, not as high as clams etc but a 100g portion of crab contains 11.5μg of vitamin B12 (192% of the RDA).
Lobster can provide 4.04μg (67% RDA) per 100g serving, or 6.59μg (110% RDA) in an average whole lobster (163g).
There are many types of fish that provide substantial levels of vitamin B12.
Mackerel provides the most vitamin B-12 with 19μg per 100g serving (317% RDA),
followed by Herring (312% RDA),
Trout (130%), and Bluefish (104%).
Fish eggs (caviar) are also high in vitamin B12.
The eggs of white fish contain the most vitamin B-12 with 56.4μg (940% RDA) per 100g serving.
Caviar contains a third of that with 20μg (333% RDA) of vitamin B12 per 100g serving.
While octopus is more commonly found in traditional Mediterranean and eastern cooking, it is becoming more popular on a global level.
Octopus typically provides 36μg of vitamin B-12 per 100g serving accounting for 600% of the RDA.
The amount of vitamin B12 in beef depends on the cut you choose but the best choice in terms of vitamin B12 levels is lean chuck steak, followed by sirloin then rib-eye.
Lean lamb is a good source of vitamin B12 and also is a good source of protein and zinc. Lamb shoulder is the best cut of lamb for vitamin B12 levels.
As well as providing calcium and vitamin B2, cheese is a fairly good source of vitamin B12.
Swiss cheese provides the most with 3.34μg (56% RDA) per 100g serving,
followed by Gjetost (40% RDA),
Parmesan (38% RDA),
Tilsit (35% RDA), and Feta (28% RDA).
Chicken eggs are another fairly good source of vitamin B12 , the yolk has the highest level. Goose eggs and duck eggs have even higher levels of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Not getting enough vitamin B12 leads to a deficiency which causes the red blood cells that are produced to be larger than normal and unable to function properly.
This is more common in older people but can affect people of all ages.
Vitamin deficiencies often go unnoticed. Therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause of the wide ranging symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency;
Because vitamin B12 is of influence in so many systems in the body, the symptoms of a deficiency will be different for everyone.
Where one person in particular suffer from fatigue, tingling, memory loss and problems with muscle cramps, someone ells can be suffering from an inflamed tongue, menstruation complaints, trouble concentrating and depression.
The symptoms can also vary during the years.
- Weird feeling in the feet (feeling of walking on felt, wadding or pads; surface feeling is disturbed, under-sensitivity to pain; burning sensation on the skin)
- Tingling feeling (in the feet and hands and later in legs, arms, face “feels like being charged “; “ants walk”; also numbness in hands and feet, shaky hands, loss of control over your arms/legs)
- Concentration and memory problems (can’t think clearly, wadding head, drowsiness)
- Heavy and stiff feeling in the legs (pain in the hips)
- Fasciculaties /myokymieën (muscle vibrations; contraction of a small part of a muscle most common near the eye, but can be in other places of the body; involuntary movements, restless legs)
- Ataxia, loss of position (unstable / difficult walk, stumble; walking like being drunk until no longer able to walk; walking against things; unexplained fall; dropping things out of your hands; being clumsy)
- Aphasia (problems with speaking; using wrong words; can’t remember the right words; speaking with “double tongue”; “keyboard-aphasia”: swapping letters)
- Mental health problems:
“Short fuse” / irritability; Mood swings; Irrational to serious mental complaints
- Panic attacks and suicidal behaviour; Nervousness; Psychosis; Paranoia
- Dementia (memory loss); Depression; Confusion
- Fatigue (sometimes very tired)
- Drowsiness (need a lot of sleep, just fall asleep spontaneously)
- Lack of energy
- Discolorution around the knockles (skin is browner then the rest of your fingers)
- Glossitis (inflamed tongue; burning, painful or irritated tongue, especially among seasoned/spicy food, sour drinks and when brushing your teeth; inflamed and/or bloody gums; iron-/metal taste); Canker sores
- Tightness of chest (angineuze pains, palpitations, arrhythmias, accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath)
- Being cold (sometimes a burning sensation on the skin)
- Myalgia (muscle pain after exercise, is worse than before; sometimes muscle cramps; muscle weakness; strength loss)
- Pain (including back, hands, wrists, joints, hips and knees)
- Inflammation in the digestive system (up to bowel perforation)
- Nausea (no appetite, indefinable feeling in the stomach)
- Bowel complaints, diarrhoea (with some regularity)
- Derogatory reflexes
- Weight loss (loss of appetite, loss of taste/smell)
- Anaemia, sometimes little, often not; (fainting; dry skin; itching; yellowing eyes and skin; paleness; hyper pigmentation; spontaneous bruising; petechia)
- Problems with eyes (optic neuropathy, blurred vision, loss of visual field)
- Hearing problems (tinnitus, distorted sound),
- Hair loss
- Friable nails
- Hyper tone bladder (incontinent, even a little bit and/or weak bladder)
- Infections (vaginal-and an increased risk of urinary system infections)
- Menstrual problems (irregular, heavy, long, increased pain, sometimes no menstruation at all, error-positive PAP smear)
- Infertility/miscarriages, birth abnormalities; libido loss, impotence
- Young children with a deficit: growth and development is lagging behind, autistic behaviour
Who is most at risk from vitamin B12 deficiency?
Some groups of people are more at risk from vitamin B12 deficiency than others and the risk increases with age. The following groups should be especially vigilant for signs of a possible vitamin B12 deficiency;
Those with Atrophic Gastritis may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 properly and so a supplement is often recommended to keep levels up.
Vegans and vegetarians may not get enough vitamin B12 because they do not consume animal products, supplements and foods with vitamin B12 added to them are recommended for those who avoid animal produce, especially during pregnancy when it more important than ever to have the right levels of vitamin B12 in the body.
People who are taking medications including Proton pump inhibitors, Metformin, Histamine antagonists, Bacteriostatic Antibiotics and anticonvulsants. Advice should always be taken from a medical professional if you are taking medication and think you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 and the Earth
The level of vitamin B12 in foodstuffs depends on how much nutrition the animal absorbs from the food it eats.
If vitamin and mineral levels in the earth are low, the animal then does not absorb as much and then we in turn do not absorb as much.
Intensive farming, chemicals and environmental damage all play a part in the depletion of nutrients in the soil and so farming techniques that take this into account will always produce better sources of vitamin B12 and other important nutrients.
Also there is the matter of the preventive vaccination the animals receive. The more we give this to the animals, the worse their general health will be, which in turn has his effect on the meat we eat.
Vitamin B12 and Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a condition that experts are only really beginning to understand.
Sufferers experience widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disorders and depression. Many sufferers also have high levels of homocysteine and low levels of vitamin B12 (vitamin B12 reduces the level of homocysteine) and research now suggests a link between the two conditions.
Experts are researching how chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia could be successfully treated with vitamin B12 supplements.
Solutions to vitamin B12 Deficiency
The solutions to any vitamin deficiency are to increase the levels of that particular vitamin in your body.
For vitamin B12 deficiencies you can increase your intake of foods that are rich in vitamin B12, increase your intake of foods that have had vitamin B12 added to them or choose a supplement.
There are various supplements available, in various forms including injections. Research suggests that one of the most effective ways to take a supplement is in the form of a vitamin B12 spray.
Check with your health practitioner if you think you depleted with vitamin B12.