B12. Why do we need it, and how do we get it?

Vitamin B12 is a water - soluble vitamin that is needed to keep the bodies nerve and blood cells healthy. It is responsible for DNA and red blood cell development. B12 is produced by bacteria NOT animals, plants or fungi. As humans we get our Vitamin B12 through the consumption of animal products or supplements.

The process of absorbing and digesting B12 requires certain enzymes & co-factors. Without adequate amounts of these enzymes and co factors your body may not actually be extracting the B12 from your food. B12 metabolism is energy taxing on the body, and therefore can be stored in the liver for 3-10 years.

There are two main categories as to why someone might be deficient in B12: 
1.Decreased dietary intake - such as: Eating a vegan diet (no animal produce), pregnant women ( as they require more B12) and breast-fed babies from B12 deficient mothers.

2.Compromised Absorption 
This can be split into 4 main sub-groups:
  • Medications - such as Proton Pump Inhibitors ( can reduce HCL), Metformin
  • Pancreatic disorders - Exocrine disorders 
  • GI diseases - Crohn's ( targets terminal ileum where B12 is absorbed), Celiac, Gastric bypass, gastritis, malabsorption/ nutrient deficiencies
  • Autoimmune - Pernicious anaemia ( autoimmune destruction of the parietal cells, therefore reducing HCL & IF)
When we ingest B12, it has to go through a series of steps in order to be absorbed into the blood stream and taken to the liver. The process requires co-factors such as Haptocorrin (HC) released from the salivary glands, Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) & Intrinsic factor (IF) both released by the parietal cells in the stomach, and pancreatic proteases released from the pancreas. All the stages play a vital role in the absorption & metabolism of B12. Therefore any disruption in the process can lead to B12 deficiency.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency
  • Neurological symptoms: Depression, insomnia, irritability, forgetfulness , vision loss
  • Megaloblastic anemia: Fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
Low levels of B12
Elevated Methylmalonic acid (MMA)
Elevated Homocysteine levels, however this can also imply Folate deficiency.

If you eat a strict vegan diet or are have any of the above symptoms, I would recommend that you  get your B12 levels tested and if deficient, the GP will give you B12 injections or pills.

If you have low b12 levels due to compromised absorption and NOT dietary means,  I would advise that you work with a practitioner to get to the root cause of the deficiency. 

As always please contact me if you have any questions. 

Love H x