One vitamin we are not talking enough about, and one that we must put a spotlight on is vitamin B12.
The Vitamin to Look Out For
Recently, a friend's mother complained of excessive fatigue and dizziness.
Blood tests revealed very low counts of vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, and she ended up spending a day at the hospital. She is in her sixties but deficiency of vitamin B12 is now rampant across all age groups.
In fact, I see young people including many teenagers suffering from it, and what is dangerous is that most do not come to know that they are deficient till a niggling symptom makes them get their tests done.
Good To Know
Vitamin B12 status is typically assessed via serum or plasma vitamin B12 levels. Values below approximately 170–250 pg/mL (120–180 picomole/L) for adults indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency.
This is bad news because the deficiency of this vital vitamin besides immediate symptoms can lead to multiple serious health problems in the long run too.
This is a vitamin we all need more of but know very little about, ergo, we must pay it more attention than we do.
Are You Deficient?
It’s called the energy vitamin for a reason. B12 is needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen all over the body. And without enough oxygen in your cells, you'll feel tired no matter how long you sleep.
This is why very often unexplained fatigue, weakness and sluggishness in so many people get explained by a simple blood test to check the B12 levels.
Vitamin B12 is also essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system and blood that is why numbness and a "pins and needles" sensation in the feet, legs or fingers also often results when the nerve gets damaged triggered by chronic low oxygen levels in cells due to low B12 levels. Similarly, feeling dizzy when getting up suddenly or walking up the stairs too could be directly due to low levels of this vitamin in the body.
Cognitive issues too come up in many people. Forgetfulness, disorientation, and difficulty thinking and reasoning and brain fog are common signs too.
This is because vitamin B12 is needed to boost levels of chemicals in the brain which protect against neurological disorders, and also keep our memory intact.
So before you begin worrying that you are suffering from dementia, it’ll do you good to figure out your B12 levels!
Why Are So Many of Us Deficient?
Today I find that the deficiency of vitamin B-12 is increasing due to the kind of diets we eat, which are often dictated by food fads or comprise mostly of junk food.
There can be multiple reasons for it. First it is important to know that as our body does not make this vitamin we need to supply it through food. Secondly it is a water soluble vitamin so is not stored in the body, that is why its regular intake becomes even more important. Ageing is a factor too as our body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food slows down.
Alcohol and B12
Alcohol drinkers need to be particularly careful as alcohol can irritate the stomach lining leading to reduced B12 absorption.
Alcohol consumption can also impair liver function and make it harder for the liver to use it, leading thus to a deficiency.
Women who have been on oral contraceptives for extended periods of time tend to have issues absorbing vitamin B12.
Do not wait for symptoms to come up, get tested and if the counts are low include vitamin B12 rich foods (dairy products, almonds, salmon, chicken, eggs, mackerel, tofu, mushrooms, and tuna) in the diet or opt for supplementation.
Supplements and fortified foods contain B12 in its free form, so they may be more easily absorbed. In cases of severe vitamin B12 deficiency due to inadequate intrinsic factor (pernicious anaemia), doctors may prescribe B12 injections in the muscle.
Timely detection of deficiency and prompt intervention can help avoid severe complications.
(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant, and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of The Don't Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss, Fix it with Food, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People.)