What is B12?
B12 was discovered in 1948. It was the last vitamin to be discovered. It is a large complex vitamin similar physically to Hemoglobin. Hemoglobin has Iron as its central atom. B12 has cobalt as its, making it the only vitamin that contains an essential mineral. When we have enough B12 in our systems, it is stored in the liver and other tissues in our bodies.
Most people believe that B12 is created in animal products. And this is one of the most common arguments for a pro omnivore diet. When in fact B12 is created by bacteria. This bacteria lives on plants, is in water and is stored very well in animals and their products. Humans used to consume this vitamin from one of these sources. With modern hygiene procedures vegetables source B12 is washed off before eating. And water has to be chlorinated to a certain level for health reasons. This makes these two sources no longer dependable for humans to rely on for B12. Animal flesh and their products still have amounts of B12 in them. B12 is stored in the tissues and livers of animals. It attaches itself to protein molecules before entering our bodies. Our body produces digestive enzymes, Hydrochloric acid and pepsin to separate the protein from B12. It also creates a protein substance called intrinsic protein that acts like a” body guard” to get B12 to its absorption site in the body.
The importance of B12 in our bodies is great. With this great need it very common for B12 to be supplemented. As well as there being a large list of fortified foods on the market that help people meet their B12 needs.
What Does B12 Do in our Bodies.
One of the reason B12 is called the “red vitamin” is its role in Red Blood Cells. It helps them to mature and divide normally in our bodies. It is also plays a massive role in the creation of the Myelin Sheath. The Myelin Sheath is the protective fatty layer that is wrapped around our nerves. This is involved in our brain, spinal cord and nerve functions. It also help clear a sometimes toxic natural bi product in our bodies called Homocysteine.
Red Blood Cells
Our body is constantly creating new red bloods cells. Using the red blood cells and disposing of them. B12 is needed to make sure that these red blood cells develop and divide normally. When we are lacking in B12 our body can develop red blood cells that do not perform their job properly. Their number one job in our body is to help deliver oxygen to our cells. When we are deficient in B12 symptoms can show up due to lack of oxygen being delivered. These symptoms can look like; fatigue, weakness, loss of menstruation. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations are commonly seen in those that red blood cells that are not delivering proper levels of oxygen. These symptoms can be corrected by reestablishing B12 levels in the body. Sometimes if B12 levels are too low the vitamins folate can step in and help with the red blood cell production.
B12 plays a massive role in the creation of the Myelin Sheath. The protective layer on the outside of our cells. If we are not consuming enough B12 in our diets the protective layer does not develop properly. This can cause damage to be done to our nerves, spina cord and even brain if not treated in time. One of the first symptoms of the Myelin Sheath being affected is numbness and tingling, commonly in legs and feet. It can affect our balance and ability to walk. Our memory and ability to concentrate are reduced. Dizziness, disorientation, mood changes, delusion or paranoia can be seen with deficiency. Bladder and bowel controls can be effected as well as our vision due to optic nerve damage. When B12 deficiency is showing up as nerve related. The damage can be irreversible.
When we consume protein. There is a natural bi product that is created called Homocysteine. Homocysteine can be toxic in our bodies. It acts similar to Low Density Lipoprotein. Also known as the “Bad Cholesterol”. They both can clog our blood vessels. This clogging can lead to chronic heart disease, the number one killer of people in North America. B12 is known to clear Homocysteine in our blood vessels. This clearing helps in the prevention on chronic heart disease. Good levels of B12 are needed for it to preform this heart healthy action on our bodies.
Infants and Children
A deficiency of B12 can show up much quicker in infants and children. They lack the storage of B12 that adults have. It is very important to have a good source of B12 for them. They are in the largest growth period of life. Remember all the things that B12 does? To develop properly they need good levels of B12. Also remember that nerve damage due to B12 deficiency is irreversible.
When mothers are pregnant the fetus relies on her for everything. B12 for the fetus is not taken from the mother storage sites unlike many other vitamins. The fetus can only use the B12 that comes directly from the mothers current diet. So the importance for pregnant mother to have a good source of B12 for the growth and development of the fetus. This importance continues into breastfeeding’s and babies foods.
B12’s journey to absorption sites is a long one. It is absorbed in a few different sites in the small intestine. It is a sensitive vitamin that must be protected from certain bacteria and enzymes. Our body naturally produces digestive enzymes pepsin and hydrochloric acid. Along with a protein called intrinsic factor. The digestive enzymes help divide the B12 from protein and other molecules. B12 needs to be separated for absorption. Once it is on its own the intrinsic factor protein will attach itself to B12 and protect it from being destroyed on its way to the small intestine.
As we age or are stressed physically or mentally. If we don’t consume a healthy diet and partake in activity our bodies struggle to produces pepsin, hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factors. Without these products in our bodies we cannot properly absorb B12. This can lead to deficiency.
On average one in three people over fifty have lost the ability to absorb B12 when it comes for the animal product source. This source is harder to absorb because it is bound to a protein molecule. And we need healthy levels of digestive enzymes to do so. Lower production of pepsin and hydrochloric acid in the stomach stops the separation of B12 from protein. It then cannot bind itself to the “body guard” intrinsic factor to get to the small intestine. Whatever B12 leaves the stomach has less chance of reaching absorption sites.
How We Get Enough B12
If we have effective storage levels we only need very little of B12. Smaller amounts are absorbed at a higher percentage than at larger amounts. Meaning having small amounts through out your day is a smart way to reach your intake.
Supplements, fortified foods, eggs, dairy products, seafood and animal flesh are great ways to receive B12. If you wanted to take a supplement a daily intake of 10mcg is a good amount. This amount in commonly found in multi vitamins. Some people preferer the high dosage weekly supplement of 2,000mcg. Either or in combination with healthy food sources is a good way to prevent deficiencies.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science recommends that anyone over the age of fifty use a non animal source B12 in their daily diet. This is due to the fact that animal sources B12 is harder to absorb. Supplements and fortified foods should be used in diet. Fortified foods will say “fortified” or “enriched” on their labels are extremely helpful foods when it comes to hard to obtain vitamins and minerals. Non-dairy milks are a very common fortified food.
When it comes to vitamin B12 it is crucial for disease prevention and healthy vitality. Humans and animals cannot make usable B12. We both rely on the bacteria that forms it. Source include animal flesh, seafood, dairy products, eggs, fortified foods and supplements. It is important to consume these foods regularly.
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