A Silent Epidemic - Vitamin B12 and It's Serious Consequences

28 Mar A Silent Epidemic – Vitamin B12 and It’s Serious Consequences

Vitamin B12 deficiency is often called a silent epidemic. This is because it sneaks up on its victims, only becoming a problem after a long period of time. This is not to say that Vitamin B12 deficiency is hidden, however, as B12 deficiency is far more common than most health care practitioners and the general public realize.

Research on the Vitamin B12 deficiency problem, from a Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggests that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range – a range at which many experienced neurological symptoms. Just fewer than 10 percent of those surveyed in the study had outright Vitamin B12 deficiency, and another 16 percent exhibited levels of Vitamin B12 that approximated ‘deficiency’.

Most surprising to the researchers was the fact that low B12 levels were as common in younger people as they were in the elderly. Researchers had previously thought that Vitamin B12 deficiency was more common in older people, with the condition estimated to affect approximately 40% of people over the age of sixty. And, it is now thought that at least some of the symptoms we associate with so-called ‘normal’ aging are at least in some part the result of low levels of Vitamin B12. Memory loss, cognitive decline and decreased mobility are just some of those symptoms we write-off as part of the aging process, that the Tufts study indicates are linked to low Vitamin B12 levels.

Why is B12 Deficiency So Under-Diagnosed?

Vitamin B12 deficiency is too often missed for two reasons. Firstly, it is not commonly requested for testing by doctors. In a first world country, we often assume that our dietary nutrition is more than adequate to supply all our vitamin and mineral needs. For a whole host of reasons, including soil degradation caused by intensive farming and cropping, our basic food staples don’t have the levels of minerals and vitamins they once possessed.

Secondly, most people who are experiencing symptoms of Vitamin B12 test in the ‘low-end’ of Vitamin B12 deficiency, so even when tested their pathology is often attributed to something else. However, the scientific literature attests to the range used to measure deficiency being too low. Even people who test with B12 levels in the range of 200pg/ml and 350pg/ml do experience symptoms, and these are levels which are considered ‘normal’ by the medical community. Clearly, the current standards of evaluation need to change before the invisible epidemic of Vitamin B12 deficiency becomes worse.

The new thinking in Vitamin B12 deficiency research is that doctors should intervene with a B12 supplementation program when patients test with Vitamin B12 levels lower than 450pg/ml, where patients present to physicians with symptoms. This practice is also recommended for patients who test with low B12 levels using other markers such as via a urine sample.

In Japan and Europe for example, the lower limit for B12 is between 500-550 pg/mL, which is the level associated with psychological and behavioral problems associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency such as; cognitive decline, dementia and memory loss. Some experts think this may explain the low levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s in these countries.

If you suspect you may be Vitamin B12 deficient there are some signs that may indicate you have a Vitamin B12 deficiency problem, including:

  • Fatigue – this is the most common symptom of people who have a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Though, people must be wary in attributing tiredness and fatigue to a B12 deficiency. Fatigue is a symptom of so many health conditions, and, could be simply a case of not getting enough sleep;
  • Weight Loss – have you experienced weight loss in circumstances where you know you are otherwise getting enough food? This can also be a sign of a Vitamin B12 imbalance. Vitamin B12 is involved in so many body functions, including digestion, that inexplicable weight loss can result from not having enough Vitamin B12 in your system;
  • Changed Bowel Habits — if you have been experiencing either constipation or diarrhea you may have a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Unhealthy gut floras, which can lead to either diarrhea or constipation, are also linked to loss of Vitamin B12 in the body;
  • Nausea – Vitamin B12 has also been associated with nausea and vomiting. For similar reasons to people who experience changed bowel habits, if you have experienced nausea and vomiting it can indicate low levels of Vitamin B12;
  • Tingling Hands and Feet – many people who have tested positive to Vitamin B12 deficiency have had tingling sensations in their hands and feet. This is because Vitamin B12 is used by the nervous system, and if you have a Vitamin B12 deficiency your nervous system, particularly your extremities, can be affected;
  • Loss of Balance – not only can your nervous system cause tingling feet and hands, but, if you have a Vitamin B12 deficiency, you can experience loss of balance. This may occur often suddenly and can be quite off-putting for the experiencer; and
  • Red and Painful Tongue – does your tongue feel like a million small pins have been stuck into it, or you’ve eaten a box of tacks? Have you noticed your tongue is discolored; red and inflamed? This can also be a sign of low levels of Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 deficiencies can occur when you aren’t getting the right nutrients in your diet when your body can’t absorb nutrients properly, and when you have various other problems of the digestive system. Since most B12 in our diets comes from animal products, vegans are particularly at risk for B12 deficiency. Crohn’s and celiac disease, weight loss surgery, and chronic alcoholism can all interfere with a person’s ability to absorb enough of the nutrients they need. Seniors can also have more problems with nutrient absorption and malnutrition. People who are being treated for diabetes are also recommended to regularly get a check-up for Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Being proactive with your health is one way to beat the silent epidemic.

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