A lack of vitamin B12 can speed up aging and result in dementia, anemia, weakness, dizziness and irritability, warns Dr. David Katz, co-author of “The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today” (click here to order). And if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you may be even more at risk.
Because vitamin B12 is present in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians may suffer from a deficiency. What to do if you are not getting enough: Take supplements. If you have a severe deficiency, you may need to receive B12 injections from your doctor.
Two steps are required for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from food. First, hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which vitamin B12 is attached in food. After this, vitamin B12 combines with a protein made by the stomach called intrinsic factor and is absorbed by the body.
Some people have pernicious anemia, a condition where they cannot make intrinsic factor. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements.
Scientists are studying vitamin B12 to understand how it affects health. Here are several examples of what this research has shown:
Vitamin B12 supplements (along with folic acid and vitamin B6) do not reduce the risk of getting heart disease. Scientists had thought that these vitamins might be helpful because they reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a compound linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
As they get older, some people develop dementia. These people often have high levels of homocysteine in the blood. Vitamin B12 (with folic acid and vitamin B6) can lower homocysteine levels, but scientists don’t know yet whether these vitamins actually help prevent or treat dementia.
Energy and athletic performance
Advertisements often promote vitamin B12 supplements as a way to increase energy or endurance. Except in people with a vitamin B12 deficiency, no evidence shows that vitamin B12 supplements increase energy or improve athletic performance.
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Click to the next page and see what foods give you the B12 you need.