As you’ll recall, a few months back I reported on a middle-aged man named Bill who developed burning pain in his feet. The pain got so bad, it interfered with his walking and his sleep. Bill also started to have blood pressure problems, heart palpitations, and dizziness. He made several trips to the hospital. And the doctors tested him for MS, Parkinson’s disease, and everything else under the sun. But each time, they found nothing. And they sent him home in pain.
Eventually, the doctors ruled everything else out. And they finally figured out that Bill had a simple vitamin B12 deficiency.
Initially, Bill experienced the most common sign of a B12 deficiency–burning and tingling in his feet, toes, and fingers. But as the condition worsens, it may extend to your legs, arms, and hands.
B12 also plays a key role in nerve and spinal cord health. And insufficient levels can damage the fatty myelin sheath that protects nerve and brain cells. This is probably why Bill began to feel dizzy and disoriented. Fortunately for Bill, this kind of nerve damage is reversible–up to a point. But it can become permanent if not corrected.
B12 deficiency can also cause your tongue or mouth to feel sore. And it can even cause weight loss, pale skin, weak immune function, rapid heart rate, diarrhea, and menstrual dysfunction.
The government’s Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) are supposed to make sure that no one suffers from this kind of nutritional deficiency. Yet as Bill’s story shows, even with the RDAs firmly in place, vitamin deficiencies still occur. And they occur quite frequently.
Plus, the RDAs don’t support optimal levels of nutrition. And you need these optimal levels to reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
And there’s yet another reason why B12 deficiencies occur so often…
You find B12 in foods like eggs, red meat, and milk. Basically, in all the things we’ve been told we should avoid.
So, millions of men and women think they are following doctor’s orders by limiting eggs, red meat, and dairy. But they go on to develop a B12 deficiency. And they don’t even realize it because most doctors don’t test B12 levels unless there’s a problem. And unfortunately, as Bill’s case shows us, even when there is an obvious problem, it takes multiple visits to the hospital to pinpoint it.
B12 deficiencies can also occur because of medical conditions. Some conditions interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12 from the gastrointestinal tract.
For example, in order to absorb B12 from your food, the stomach makes a biochemical called “intrinsic factor” (IF). IF must bind with B12 so that it can be absorbed further down in the small intestine.
But abnormalities of the stomach can interfere with IF. And problems in the small intestine can interfere with absorption as well.
Before doctors knew about these factors, many people suffered from “pernicious anemia.” This condition is caused by a deficiency of red blood cells due to lack of vitamin B12.
Fortunately, you can correct even severe deficiencies with B12 injections. These bypass the GI tract and go directly into your blood stream. So if you have an absorption problem, this is the way to go.
You can also take an oral supplement that contains B12 in the biochemical form of cyanocobalamin. This form is much more stable. And it ensures that the supplement retains its full potency while sitting on your shelf.
Vitamin B12 is part of the B family of vitamins. So you should always strive to take in B12 in concert with the other B vitamins. Five other vitamins in the B family are: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), and folate (folic acid).
All the B vitamins are water-soluble nutrients. This means that your body can’t make them. Nor can it store them in your tissues. So, you must replenish all the B vitamins daily through foods. Or through supplements.
These vitamins have a wide range of physiologic functions. Like B12, they help with nerve cell function and immune system function. They also help with red blood cell production, metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, and energy production.
Autoimmune diseases like MS and inflammatory bowel disease can cause deficiency in all the B vitamins, not just B12. In older people, a vitamin B deficiency is more likely caused by absorption problems.
To keep B vitamins at their optimal levels, make sure to eat animal-based foods. This means go ahead and enjoy poultry, red meat, fish, and dairy. But don’t expect to get much B from vegetables. Most plants are poor sources of vitamin B. (Another reason to avoid following a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet. As I have often advised, the human metabolism and physiology cannot get the nutrients it needs from a strictly plant-based diet.)
If you avoid meat and dairy for ethical or religious reasons, then make sure you supplement with a high-quality B vitamin.