Vitamin B12 is essential to the normal functioning and regeneration of your body. A water soluble vitamin available via numerous dietary sources, B12 is currently being researched as a preventative treatment – or even a cure – for a number of widespread diseases. Why, then, are so many people unaware of the need for this crucial nutrient?
Role in the Body
One of eight B vitamins, vitamin B12 helps to maintain the function of your brain and nervous system. It is also necessary for the production of new blood cells and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Cyanocobalamine or cobalamin, as vitamin B12 is also known, is the largest, most structurally complex of all the vitamins required by the human body.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a large number of common food items. Seafood, particularly clams, oysters and mussels, is extremely high in this nutrient, as is beef liver. A single serving of any of these provides many times the recommended daily allowance of 2.4 micrograms for the average person over the age of 14 (requirements are slightly higher for pregnant and breastfeeding women). Other good sources are beef, lamb, milk products (low- and non-fat are best) and certain poultry items. For a hearty meal rich in B12, try this New England Clam Chowder recipe.
Because all the currently known dietary sources of B12 are animal-based, those who follow a vegan diet comprising only plant foods may be deficient in this vitamin. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also be the result of poor absorption, caused by atrophic gastritis (individuals over the age of 50 generally produce lowered amounts of hydrochloric acid, making it more difficult for their bodies to break down B12), celiac or Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia or weight loss surgery such as stomach stapling. Even a simple antacid might interfere with the body’s ability to absorb this important vitamin! Additionally, the increased nutritional demands of pregnancy sometimes result in insufficient vitamin B12.
B12 deficiency usually gives rise to a wide variety of symptoms, which may make the syndrome difficult to recognize. Swelling and irritation of the tongue, jaundice, and numb or tingling hands and feet are obvious problems. On the other hand, impaired memory, difficulty in concentration, disorientation, vertigo and fatigue might be dismissed as the result of mental or emotional stress or the aging process. Should you feel so confused or weak that you can’t manage routine housecleaning in your home, schedule a medical checkup.
Testing for B12 Level
A simple blood test can measure the level of B12 in your body. The test must be performed while you are fasting – meaning that you have not had anything to eat or drink (other than water) for six to eight hours prior to the test. A level of fewer than 200 picograms of the vitamin per milliliter of blood indicates a deficiency.
In a case of serious deficiency, your physician may order weekly or biweekly intramuscular injections of vitamin B12 until your level has normalized. Milder cases can be treated with B12 tablets or multivitamins, both of which contain a synthetic form of this vital nutrient.
Vitamin B12 has been recognized by the medical community as an essential component of human health. As a result, research is being conducted at the present time into the vitamin’s relationship with chronic, serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has recommended investigation of vegan sources of the nutrient, perhaps from fermented vegetable foods.
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