Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms? Why you need B12

Why you need B12 it and how to get it

I’m seeing a growing trend amongst clients and friends of an escalation of symptoms, which are finally diagnosed as a B12 deficiency.

Why is it taking months (if not years) to diagnose, and what steps can you take to ensure it doesn’t happen to you?

Signs and Symptoms

Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms Why you need B12

One of the most striking aspects of low B12 is extreme fatigue and lethargy. Running so low on energy that there is none left to continue daily tasks.

Other common symptoms are confusion, poor memory recall, low mood-even depression, muscle weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite, headaches, pale skin, irritability, breathlessness and palpitations.

It’s a very long list, and those that have a genuine B12 deficiency can be left feeling extremely debilitated and worried about what may be happening to them. Just what is going on in the body?

B12 – one of the many water-soluble B vitamins – is a key factor in the manufacturer of red blood cells. These carry oxygen around the body. It is involved in the manufacture of new DNA. It is also a critical component of brain and nerve health.

Food Sources – why vegans must be careful

Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms Why you need B12

Vegetarians and especially vegans are at a distinct disadvantage. This is an animal derived vitamin, found rich in red meats, organ meats, poultry and fish. It is also found in eggs and dairy.

Vegans may say that yeast extract, spirulina and nutritional yeast contain B12, but the amounts are miniscule and will not deliver the NRV (nutrient reference value (the old “RDA”) required every day.

5 years to identify a deficiency

Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms Why you need B12

It can take 5 years to show up a deficiency – possibly less. Even though B12 is water-soluble (so not stored in fat cells in the body), the liver can store some B12 for up to 4 years (on average 2-4 years).

During the later stages, the 5th year (or even earlier), your body can start to show these deficiency signs and symptoms.

It is one reason why some vegans may feel they thrive on a vegan diet initially, but a few years in can feel quite depleted with typical symptoms of low energy and low mood.

The critical role of stomach acid – don’t ignore symptoms!

Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms Why you need B12

Stomach acid is a crucial aspect for the absorption of B12 alongside another stomach secretion called intrinsic factor.

Stomach acid cleaves apart B12 from the food whilst intrinsic factor helps its absorption into the bloodstream.

We take it for granted that throughout life our body is perfectly capable of digesting food, but unfortunately there are several factors that can interfere with this process.

Do you take stomach acid lowering medication? Certain types of medications like Rinitidine and Zantac block intrinsic factor, as well as lowering stomach acid.

Other PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) are designed to lower stomach acid, which may leave you with too little to effectively absorb B12.

Do you experience digestive symptoms like bloating, burping, even indigestion or acid reflux?  These can all be signs of natural low stomach acidity, although these symptoms are usually treated as having too much!

Are you experiencing stress in your life, since stress hinders the release of digestive secretions like stomach acid?

Are you over 40? Since as we age, our natural levels of stomach acidity start to decline.

Actions you can take now

Is low B12 the cause of your unexplained health symptoms Why you need B12

You can request a B12 blood test from your GP or carry out a private test. Be aware that the “normal” range for B12 is very wide (185-960) so if you fall within the range – even if it’s on the low side – your GP may tell you your levels are OK.

If you experience the typical symptoms I list above, I would suggest your level is too low for you.

If your levels are very low, you may be offered a series of B12 injections, but it’s important to take action to keep your levels up going forward.

Choosing the right supplement is important. Remember, if you are low in stomach acid, a pill that requires “digestion” may not help increase your levels. I prefer an oral spray or a lozenge that dissolves under the tongue that bi-passes the digestive system altogether.

Typically, a supplement of 1000-3000mcg is recommended initially. Methyl cobalamin is considered to be the most absorbable form of B12.

Other than ensuring you have a regular intake of animal based foods, do take advice about stomach acid levels. One way to naturally increase secretions is to eat bitter foods like rocket or chicory at the start of your main meal.

Another simple solution is to consume 2 tsp lemon juice in 2 tsp water before eating. 

I frequently recommend stomach acid as a supplement to clients, but this must be managed carefully with a trained professional.

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

A little more about me…

Providing expert, personalised, health advice utilising 10 years of nutritional therapy and naturopathy experience with a strong emphasis on digestion and gut health. Zoom or face to face Consultations.

I also develop and deliver well-being in the workplace workshops.

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