Do you get a lot of headaches? Do you feel especially tired and low in energy, and are you nervous and perhaps even constipated? If so, you might be low in vitamin B12, also known as cyanocobalamin.
This member of the B-vitamin family is vital for our overall health and energy levels, yet a huge number of us are walking around woefully low in the nutrient. Elderly people are especially at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency. What makes this somewhat ironic is that of the B-vitamins, vitamin B12 is the only one that our bodies store up in decent amounts—the rest of the B-family excretes itself all day long through the urine. Unless you are a vegan, most of us should technically get enough vitamin B12 from our diets. However, in order to get the nutrient out of the foods and into our systems, it has to be removed from protein, which is not always a simple process. We need enough stomach acid and proper levels of digestive enzymes for vitamin B12 to be freed from the protein in order to start doing its healthful work. Once separated from the protein, vitamin B12 heads to a substance found in the cells of the stomach lining called intrinsic factor, and it is absorbed into the body. The problem is that as we get older, we tend to make less intrinsic factor or stomach acid, and some of us have low levels of digestive enzymes. This explains why some experts contend that as many as 20 percent of older adults are deficient in vitamin B12, but have no idea that this is the case.
Once in the body, vitamin B12 gets right to work doing a long list of jobs. For example, it works alongside folic acid in keeping tabs on the formation of red blood cells, and with this in mind, it is needed in the absorption of iron and the prevention of anemia. Interestingly, vitamin B12 was discovered way back in 1948 by scientists who identified a substance in calf’s liver that would prevent pernicious anemia. It was the last B-vitamin to be discovered, which is why it has the highest number in its name.
Vitamin B12 is also vital for energy metabolism, which has caused some nutritionists to call it the “energy vitamin.” It is not uncommon to hear an athlete talk about receiving a shot of B12, and some weight loss clinics do the same to help their clients lose weight (although it won’t officially cause weight loss, the increase in energy and metabolism that may come from increased B12 may help your efforts to shed pounds).
Vitamin B12 is found in large amounts in brewer’s yeast, eggs, clams, mackerel, dairy products, and seafood. If you are on anti-gout medications, potassium supplements or anticoagulant drugs your body is probably blocking the absorption of vitamin B12 into your digestive tract. In these cases, you may wish to try a sublingual, or under-the-tongue version of the nutrient—it will dissolve quickly and get into your body more efficiently than through a traditional supplement. Other people do just fine getting vitamin B12 through a multivitamin or B-complex supplement.
Balch and Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition, page 18