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Healthy Ageing and Vitamin B12

Older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 are at increased risk of having brain atrophy or shrinkage. Brain atrophy is associated with Alzheimer's disease and impaired cognitive function.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among older people.

In a study involving more than 100 volunteers aged 61 to 87, all participants underwent annual clinical exams, MRI scans and cognitive tests, and had blood samples taken. Individuals with lower vitamin B12 levels at the start of the study had a greater decrease in brain volume. Those with the lowest B12 levels had a sixfold greater rate of brain volume loss compared with those who had the highest levels.

However, none of the participants were actually deficient in vitamin B12 -- they just had low levels within a normal range.

Other risk factors for brain atrophy include high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

U.S. News & World Report September 8, 2008
Neurology 2008; 71: 826-832

Carina Harkins’s comments
It is amazing that the risk of Alzheimers exists even if B12 levels are within the so-called normal range. It appears that your B12 levels need to be in the high range

"Our results suggest that rather than maintaining one's B12 at a level that is just above the cut off for deficiency, it might be prudent to aim to keep it higher up than normal range,” the study’s lead researcher said.

Functions of B12

Formation of red blood cells (RBCs)

RBC production requires the correct formation of DNA. (DNA, or deoxyribose nucleic acid, is the substance in the nucleus of our cells, which contains genetic information.) Without B12, synthesis of DNA becomes defective, and the formation red blood cells slow down. Because there is a delay in formation, the cells become oversized, misshapen, and results in a condition called pernicious anaemia. More often than not, pernicious anaemia isn't caused by a lack of B12 itself, but by a lack of intrinsic factor, the stomach-made protein required for the absorption of B12. Certain stomach disease can decrease the production of intrinsic factor.

Developing nerve cells

A second major function of B12 involves its participation in the development of nerve cells. B12 is involved in the synthesis of the coating that encloses the nerves called the myelin sheath. B12 deficiency results in myelin not being formed properly and can result in conditions such s Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimers. Although the vitamin plays an indirect role in this process, supplementation of B12 has been shown to be effective in relieving pain and other symptoms in a variety of nervous system disorders.

Other roles for vitamin B12

B12 is involved in protein synthesis and therefore required for growth and repair of all cells. Many of protein's key components, called amino acids, become unavailable for use in the absence of B12. Since one of the steps in carbohydrate and fat processing requires B12 for its completion, insufficiency of the vitamin can also affect the movement of carbohydrates and fats through the body, resulting in fatigue.
As proteins are involved in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and immune cells, B12 deficiency can result in adrenal hormone deficiency, immune deficiency, depression and poor memory and concentration.

Deficiency Symptoms

Although B12 is not the only nutrient deficiency that can contribute to occurrence of the following symptoms, B12 deficiency should be considered as a possible underlying factor whenever any of the symptoms listed below are present.

Symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency
Decreased blood clotting
Numbness in feet
Decreased reflexes
Red tongue
Difficulty swallowing
Sore tongue
Tingling in feet
Heart palpitations
Memory problems
Weak pulse
Menstrual problems

B12 and vegetarianism

Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, including foods like beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry and eggs. The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogues. Simply put, an analogue is a substance that blocks the uptake of true B12. The result being, your body’s need for the nutrient actually increases.

The ability of a strict vegetarian diet to supply adequate amounts of B12 remains controversial, despite increasing evidence in support of vegetarianism and its nutritional adequacy. The controversy is fuelled by two somewhat divergent schools of thought. One school emphasizes the fact that most animals, including humans, are capable of storing long-term supplies of B12. In humans, these stores may last for twenty years or longer. Given this potential for storage, a daily requirement for B12 is regarded as highly unlikely.

A second school of thought, however, points to the unreliability of plants as sources of B12. For strict vegetarians who eat no animal products whatsoever, this unreliability may pose a problem. Since no plant is capable of making B-12, the amount of B12 in plant food depends upon the relationship of the plant to soil and root-level microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts, moulds, and fungi), which make the vitamin. Cultured and fermented bean products like tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari and shoyu may or may not contain significant amounts of B12, depending upon the bacteria, moulds, and fungi used to produce them. For example these products are now made in sterile stainless steel vats free from Moulds and bacteria that make B12. The B12 content of sea vegetables also varies according to the distribution of microorganisms in the surrounding sea environment.

In general, tofus, tempehs, and sea vegetables tend to be more consistent sources of B12 than misos, tamaris, and shoyus. Again, depending upon the medium in which they are grown, brewer's and nutritional yeast can also be significant sources of B12 in a strict vegetarian diet.

Who else is at Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

· B12 deficiency can occur in gastrointestinal disease such as chronic gastritis or stomach ulcers. This is because B12 needs the help of a protein called intrinsic factor in order to be absorbed. In gastrointestinal disease, intrinsic factor is inhibited, making it nearly impossible to absorb B12.

· Age: People over 50 have a decreased ability to absorb B12.

· Drinking coffee: A study in Clinical Chemistry found that people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent reduction in multiple B vitamins compared to those who drank no coffee.

· Taking medications: Many prescription drugs diminish your body’s levels of B12, including antibiotics, anticancer medications, anticonvulsants, anti-gout medications, antihypertensives, antiParkinson's medications, antipsychotics, antituberculosis medications, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and potassium replacements.

· Those who have undergone weight-loss surgery, which can impair your body’s ability to absorb B12 and other vitamins.

B12 Supplement

Vitamin B12 is the largest vitamin known and it is not easily absorbed. If you do choose to supplement, studies show that sublingual (under-the-tongue) forms of vitamin B12 are better absorbed. Dosage range 10 -1000 mcg! Needs to be professionally prescribed in higher doses

Antiaging herbal medicine

Please see also Carahealth Kidney Antiaging Tonic

Carina is available to lecture for your group or institution on this subject.

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu. is a practitioner of 11 years, complementary medicine lecturer of 4 years and mother of six in Galway, Ireland who practices what she teaches.

For an appointment call Carina directly on 083 34 66 333.

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