Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and cyanocobalamin. Your body needs it and the other B vitamins to function properly. Getting the proper amount of vitamin B12 in your diet is essential for avoiding pernicious anemia, controlling the levels of homocysteine in your blood, protecting nerves, metabolizing protein and fat and keeping your skin and organs in good working order. If you think you have a B12 deficiency, speak with your doctor to find the cause and the best way to increase your levels.
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Vitamin B12 is found in animal products and fortified foods. It is available as a supplement, too. Be aware that not all sources of B12 carry a full day’s dose in one serving. The amount of B12 recommended daily for adults over 19 years old is 2.4 micrograms, but the University of Florida says a typical 3 oz. serving of extra lean beef contains only 1.8 micrograms. Sometimes the difference between sources is drastic. For example, the Dairy Research and Information Center at the University of California Davis, notes the amount of B12 in cow’s milk is almost seven times greater than that of goat’s milk.
If you aren’t getting enough, or worse, not getting any B12, you put yourself at risk for health issues ranging from tingling limbs and memory problems, to outright dementia-like neurological problems. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health says some cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may be severe B12 deficiencies, and that these are reversible.
Increasing your B12 levels isn’t always a matter of just eating more foods with B12, and you need to check with a doctor about what the exact cause of the deficiency is. Reduction of stomach acid, either through age or medication, and possible stomach lining damage interfere with your body’s ability to break down foods to get at the B12. The Harvard School of Public Health notes this difficulty tends to involve food sources and that supplements and fortification provide a more accessible source of B12 for those with stomach acid suppression. Some people lack intrinsic factor, another substance in the stomach that works to absorb B12. The University of Maryland Medical Center warns that those who have the Helicobacter pylori bacteria--the same bacteria that causes stomach ulcers--are at risk because the damage to the stomach lining reduces intrinsic factor.
The University of Maryland Medical Center warns you can’t add vitamin B12 to your diet by eating brewer’s yeast. While it does contain several B vitamins, B12 is not one of them. However, Rutgers University says a different type of yeast, nutritional yeast, is available fortified with vitamin B12 and is a possible supplemental food for vegans.
The University of Maryland Medical Center warns that if you take too much supplemental folic acid and not enough B12, you can end up with a B12 deficiency and not know it until it’s too late. The extra folic acid does not make up for the lack of B12, but merely hides it, and you can end up with neurological damage. Do not take more than 800 micrograms of folic acid daily without speaking with a doctor first.