Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's in a vitamin? (Vitamin B12)

Last summer I started this little segment about vitamins, so here's a lighthearted post about our next special vitamin. How do we really know what vitamins are actually worth the buzz? That's what I'm attempting to discover. We've already discussed the benefits of vitamin D and C, next up: B12.

Vitamin B12
B12, aka cyanocobalamin, is fairly well known as an energy booster and has been on trend for the past several years. Given is ubiquitously known name, lets just jump in and affirm that yes - B12 boosts your energy! This is mostly due to the fact that people with a B12 deficiency suffer from weakness and fatigue as a side effect. So when you replace what you've lost, you feel better! But what else can this little bugger do for you?

B12 is a vitamin only obtained via diet, whether it be fortified foods, OTC or prescription supplements, or naturally occurring in foods. Without it not only will you feel your metabolism slow (two of its by products are active in metabolism.. metabolism = energy), but you can also develop anemia and neurological deficits including abnormal sensations, such as pins and needles, and memory loss, which can contribute to a sense of weakness and fatigue. Deficiency can also lead to constipation, depression, weight loss, and loss of appetite. There are a few factors that put a person at risk for developing a B12 deficiency.

1 - being vegan or vegetarian. B12 is naturally found in the meat, fish, shellfish, chicken, and dairy... therefore if you are not eating any of those foods you put yourself at risk for developing a B12 deficiency, among other things. If you practice vegetarianism, be sure to see a nutritionist to make sure you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals you might be missing out on. Side note: B12 can also be found in fortified cereals.

2 - being elderly. As you grow older, you GI system gets tired and doesn't absorb the nutrients in the foods you eat as well as it did when you were younger. In fact, many times older people may be misdiagnosed with early dementia if their chief complaint is only memory loss and therefore the practitioner doesn't think to check for B12 deficiency. NY Times wrote an article on Vitamin B12 with this scenario as their back story.

3 - having a gastrointestinal disorder. B12 is absorbed in the small intestine. If you have a GI disorder, such as Crohn's Disease, Celiac's, or another condition that affects the small intestine, it can lead to malabsorbtion of many things, including B12.

4 - having had GI surgery or bariatric surgery. If you are missing some of your pieces, then its fair to guess that your body is going to miss out on whatever it is those pieces do for you. You lose your gallbladder, you can no longer secrete the enzymes needed to break down fatty foods, therefore you can no longer eat those fatty foods you love or else they'll be coming straight out the other end the same way they came in... gross (sorry for the visual, it was the first example that came to mind and I was too lazy slash entertained to change it to something more benign like losing your uterus means no babies). Likewise, if you are missing part of your GI tract, you can bet you're gonna miss out on absorbing some or many of the nutrients your body needs.

So how does this affect you and what can you do about it? For most of the young American population, you probably aren't B12 deficient. If you are tired, its probably because you stayed up too late watching TV or going out with you friends or taking care of your kids all day. However, you should eat a well balanced diet including an appropriate amount of meats, fish and dairy, and you should still get an annual physical in which your doc does routine blood work to check for anemia and vitamin deficiencies. And if you are still worried you might be deficient - a little OTC B12 never hurt nobody (at least not that I can find in the literature...)

Another fun fact: along with folate and vitamin B6, B12 also contributes indirectly to overall cardiovascular health.

Where this information came from: 

No comments:

Post a Comment