The vitamin we must get more of in our diet

It can be the harbinger of multiple health problems, besides surfacing as excruciating pain, intense fatigue, brain fog and sometimes even blurry vision.

 |  Hello, Health  |  3-minute read |   19-07-2017
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These days, almost every second person I see in my clinic, when tested, comes short in this essential vitamin. I am talking about vitamin B12, the one we all need more of but know so little about. It is a pity because B12, also called cobalamin, when deficient, can be the harbinger of multiple health problems, besides surfacing as excruciating pain, intense fatigue, rapid heartbeat, brain fog and sometimes even blurry or double vision.

Fatigue, in fact, is one of the first signs of B12 deficiency because the vitamin is essential to make red-blood cells, which carry oxygen all over the body. And without enough oxygen in your cells, you feel tired no matter how long you sleep.

So, very often, unexplained fatigue, weakness and sluggishness can be explained by a simple blood test to check B12 levels. It's not called the energy vitamin for nothing. Also look out for numbness and a pins-and-needles sensation, both result due to nerve damage triggered by chronic low oxygen levels in cells.

Also, look out for feeling dizzy when getting up suddenly or walking up the stairs, pale skin with a yellowish hue and unexplained weight loss.

fully-boiled-egg-in-_071917101159.jpgFollowing a vegan or vegetarian diet can lead to B12 deficiency.

Forgetfulness, disorientation and difficulty in thinking and reasoning are common signs too. Vitamin B12 increases the levels of chemicals in the brain which protect against neurological disorders, and also keep our memory intact. I have lost count of the number of people I have asked to get tested for B12 before getting worried sick that they had early dementia.

Often, once the levels of this vitamin in their body stabilised, their memory became sharper by leaps and bounds.

Vitamin B12 is also essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system and blood circulation - so often surfaces as numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking - and is crucial for the syn-thesis of brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine that help regulate one's mood. Unexplained tears and higher anxiety levels lately? May-be low B12 is the reason.

always-tired-tips-to_071917101443.jpgExhaustion? B12 could be reason.

B12 is also necessary for the formation of our DNA and robust immunity as it plays an important role in white blood cell (the disease fighters of our body) production. So if you have been facing these issues, it's a good idea to get yourself tested.

Vitamin B12 status is typically assessed via serum or plasma vitamin B12 levels. Values below approximately 170-250 pg/mL (120-180 pi-comol/L) for adults [5] indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Why are so many of us B12-deficient?

Our body does not make this vitamin so we need to supply it through food regularly. As we age our body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food slows down, necessitating a bigger supply via food. Being a vegan or a strict vegetarian (those who don't consume even dairy and eggs) add to the risks multifold as the vitamin is not found in plant foods.

palak-paneer_0525150_071917101312.jpgDairy products have ample Vitamin B12.

Most sources of B12 are non-vegetarian foods (dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry), so non-vegetarians don't usually face this de-ficiency. Plus certain drugs like Metformin (commonly prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome [PCOS]) and some common heartburn medications may also up your odds. Women, who have been on oral contraceptives for extended periods of time, tend to have issues absorbing vitamin B12.

Those who drink regularly need to be careful too as alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and lead to low stomach acid and reduced B12 ab-sorption. Alcohol consumption can also impair liver function and dep-lete B12 stores or make it harder for the liver to use it, thus leading to a deficiency.

Also, it's important to know that even babies can be B12-deficient. Who's at risk? A baby fed a strict diet free of any animal products. Breastfeeding moms who are vegan and don't take vitamin B12 sup-plements might need supplementation or the inclusion of B12 fortified foods in their diet.

Be careful as B12 deficiency that persists for years together might lead to permanent damage. Most symptoms can be reversed if dis-covered early and treated with B12

Time to treat this vitamin with the respect it deserves.

Writer

Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico).

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