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Untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to mental illness, physical impairments, cognitive problems, increased risk for heart attack and stroke, and in certain situations- even death. Many wonder- if that’s the case, then why isn’t vitamin B12 deficiency, aka pernicious anemia, detected early-on, before B12 levels plummet to such an unhealthy, debilitating level?
B12 deficiency is hard to find
Vitamin B12 deficiency is often misdiagnosed- slips completely off the medical radar- for a variety of reasons having to do with our method for diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency, in addition to the fact that there are so many illnesses that occur at the same time that have similar symptoms.
If you already suffer from chronic depression or fibromyalgia, how would you know if you were running perilously close to developing pernicious anemia, unless your doctor screened for it routinely? (Most doctors don’t)
The problem with diagnosing the early signs of pernicious anemia is compounded by the fact that the medical community doesn’t consider it an epidemic anymore- not since scientists discovered a way of curing lethal pernicious anemia with vitamin B12 supplementation.
For many physicians, pernicious anemia awareness is practically an oxymoron.
7 Reasons for the B12 epidemic
Here are some of the main reasons that vitamin B12 deficiency continues to develop among millions of US citizens between the ages of 40 and 65:
1) The nationally accepted standard for normal levels of serum vitamin B12 is too low to prevent many of the debilitating ailments that occur when levels are moderate to low.
2) Other tests which can be used to diagnose vitamin B12 deficiency, such as the methylmalonic acid or homocysteine test, are often ignored.
3) The average medical student receives little or no training in how to detect and treat pernicious anemia.
4) People who are most at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency- senior citizens, diabetics, autoimmune disorder patients, or recipients of gastric bypass- are rarely reminded to check their vitamin B12 levels.
5) Elderly citizens who fall frequently aren’t tested regularly for vitamin B12 deficiency, even though gait disturbances, dizziness, and balance problems are typical signs of pernicious anemia.
6) Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia often mask underlying vitamin B12 deficiency; nevertheless, doctors rarely conduct B12 screenings for patients with dementia, despite scientific evidence proving its beneficial properties for people suffering from memory loss, confusion, and paranoia.
What do you think?
Should pernicious anemia be recognized as an epidemic worthy of more research?
Should we raise our standards for detecting vitamin B12 deficiency, even when levels are moderate to low?
Does your doctor give enough attention to symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, brain fog, or “pins and needles?”
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a type of anemia that sneaks up on you; symptoms are often masked by other underlying illnesses, and can worsen intense fatigue, depression, anxiety and weakness. Listed below are illnesses and other health conditions that can be helped by diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency and implementing immediate supplementation.
Anemia- Pernicious anemia occurs with untreated vitamin B12 deficiency. Once considered a fatal disease, doctors can now prevent irreparable nerve damage, cognitive disorders, and loss of red blood cells by executing high doses of vitamin B12, usually for life.
Alzheimer’s disease dementia- Vitamin B12 deficiency is common among elderly citizens. As you age, you lose your ability to digest vitamins from natural food sources. One of the earliest symptoms of declining vitamin B12 levels is memory loss. With age-related dementia, undiagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency can exacerbate symptoms like forgetfulness, confusion, moodiness, and paranoia. That’s why doctors recommend routine serum vitamin B12 screenings for individuals over the age of 60.
Mental illness- Scientists have found that people with bipolar disorder, chronic depression, or post-partum psychosis respond better to medications when vitamin B12 levels are normal. Conversely, vitamin B12 deficiency in people suffering from mental illness (depression, schizophrenia) results in a worsening of symptoms.
Peripheral neuropathy- Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system, as it supports myelin, a fatty coating that insulates your nerve cells. Long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to severe nerve damage. Symptoms include painful tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, muscle spasms, and poor reflexes.
Multiple sclerosis- B12 deficiency is sometimes misdiagnosed as MS, as the symptoms are similar and both conditions involve a breakdown of myelin. Vitamin B12 deficiency in multiple sclerosis patients can also magnify symptoms of numbness, muscle pain, and fatigue.
Vertigo- Dizziness and vertigo is one of many side effects of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Chronic fatigue syndrome- Severe fatigue can be helped by correcting a vitamin B12 deficiency, as B12 is needed for energy and mental wellness. Also, many chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers also have gastrointestinal disorders that prevent proper absorption of vitamin B12 from foods, leading to lower than normal B12 levels.
Fibromyalgia- Similar to CFS, fibromyalgia is also comorbid with severe vitamin B12 deficiency.
Erectile dysfunction- Many oft-cited scientific reports have seen a link between sexual disorders and abnormally low levels of vitamin B12.
Infertility- Vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy or while trying to conceive can increase your risk for premature birth, miscarriage, and difficulty conceiving.
If you have any of the illnesses listed above, have you been tested for vitamin B12 deficiency? Sometimes, false-negative test results fail to determine vitamin B12 deficiency when symptoms are evident.
Since vitamin B12 is safe to use in even highest doses, doctors recommend supplementing if any of the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency make it difficult to function normally, even without a diagnosis.
A recent study on brain health proves that people who eat a diet rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B12, have healthy brain functioning, and are least likely to suffer from memory problems caused by aging. Here are the results of the study that focused on senior brain health in relation to diet and nutrition.
Eat this to avoid brain shrinkage…
According to a study published by Neurology, senior citizens in their 80’s who eat a combination of foods high in vitamins and nutrients have better cognitive skills and more brain volume than seniors who fail to meet the requirement. Blood tests indicated which senior citizens had the highest levels of vitamins like B12 and B6, and which elderly individuals had vitamin deficiency.
The study found that the following vitamins are conducive to good brain health:
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B9 (Folate, Folic acid)
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Scientists also noted that foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for optimal brain health.
…and avoid eating this
Scientists also noted decreased cognitive functioning and less brain volume in senior citizens who ate foods high in trans fats, including fried foods, pizza, margarine, and high-fat packaged goods.
Which foods are highest in vitamin B12?
Here is a list of foods that contain brain-healthy vitamins such as B12, taken from Medline Plus:
Vitamin B1, Thiamine: yeast, cereal grains, beans, nuts, and meat
Vitamin B2, Riboflavin: milk, meat, eggs, nuts, enriched flour, and green vegetables
Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine: cereals, beans, vegetables, liver, meat, and eggs
Vitamin B9, Folate: leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts
Vitamin B12, Cobalamin: meat, fish, and dairy products
Vitamin C, Ascorbic acid: fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens
Vitamin E: vegetable oils, margarine, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens
Vitamin D: egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver
How do I know I’m getting enough vitamin B12?
Even if you eat plenty of foods high in B12- lean beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, and cheese-, you are not immune from vitamin B12 deficiency. People who lack intrinsic factor, a protein produced by the stomach to absorb B12 from food, cannot digest vitamin B12 and are at risk for developing pernicious anemia.
The following individuals must have their vitamin B12 levels checked regularly through blood testing:
Patients of gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease
Anybody who has had a gastric bypass, or any other surgery involving the removal of the ileum
Diabetics on metformin
Acid reflux sufferers taking medication for chronic heartburn
The elderly need to increase their intake of vitamin B12, in order to avoid memory loss from vitamin B12 deficiency. Brain loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is sometimes a part of the aging process, but by getting enough vitamin B12 in your blood, you can prevent suffering the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Chicago study links low levels of vitamin B12 with memory loss
A 2011 study that focused on 121 community-dwelling participants of the Chicago Health and Aging Project found a strong correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and memory loss. Scientists measured methylmalonate levels to determine vitamin B12 deficiency.
They found a direct relationship between low levels of vitamin B12, reduced brain volume, and decreased cognitive skills, such as loss of short-term memory.
Scientists noted poorer memory skills, slower thinking processes, and impaired comprehension skills as attributes associated with elevated methylmalonate levels- an indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Also considered were plasma homocysteine levels, which scientists also connected with loss of brain mass. High levels of homocysteine are common in vitamin B12 deficiency.
Scientists concluded that methylmalonate, an indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency, has a direct impact on brain volume, and that vitamin B12 has multiple benefits on brain chemistry beyond just memory skills.
In 2008, a UK study conducted by the University of Oxford produced similar results; namely, that vitamin B12 deficiency is a likely cause of brain atrophy, dementia, and short-term memory loss among the elderly.
For the elderly, eating foods with vitamin B12 isn’t enough
Eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin B12 is always a good idea; such foods include protein sources like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese. But for the elderly, the problem isn’t really eating enough sources of vitamin B12, but rather digesting them. Part of the aging process involves making less stomach acids that are necessary for absorbing vitamin B12 from foods. As a result, many elderly individuals who include meat in their diet still run a high risk for getting B12 deficiency.
Unless blood tests indicate healthy levels of vitamin B12, senior citizens must supplement with vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) with a routine prescribed B12 shot in order to avoid the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Memory loss in B12 deficiency for the young and old
It isn’t just the elderly who should be concerned with memory loss- short-term memory loss is one of many symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, regardless of age.
There’s no running away from old age, but you might be able to run it off; that’s what scientists are saying about reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
A study, published in 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences, proves that aerobic exercise may reverse the shrinking of the hippocampus, the part of our brain essential for memory retention and learning, in our old age.
Conducted by Arthur Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute and professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois, this surprising research also concludes that memory can be improved through regular aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as any activity which includes “repetitive movement of large muscle groups” and gets its power source from fresh supplies of oxygen.
The study followed 120 American senior citizens between the ages of 50-80. Half of the participants were assigned an aerobic exercise regimen 3 times per week aimed at helping them reach their target high rate; the other half were given instruction in yoga and other stretching exercises. MRI scanning of both groups revealed the following results:
Over the course of one year, the senior citizens who did regular aerobic exercise 3 times per week increased the size of their hippocampus by 2%.
The group who practiced stretching and muscle toning but did not reach their target heart rate showed a decrease in hippocampus size by 1.4%.
These findings overwhelmingly prove that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be reduced or reversed by an aerobic exercise fitness regimen, even into old age.
Do you speak more than one language? A recent study shows that multilingualism is healthy for the brain.
Psychologist Ellen Bialystok of York University, Toronto recently conducted a study which focused on patients of Alzheimer’s disease. Out of the 450 test subjects, approximately half were bilingual, while the other half only spoke their Mother tongue.
The bilingual patients of Alzheimer’s suffered the same symptoms of brain deterioration as the patients who spoke only one language. However, the onset of Alzheimer’s began 4-5 years later in life for the patients who were fluent in two languages than it did for the senior citizens who were only raised with one.
Dr. Bialystok explained it like this: the ability to speak fluently in more than one language enabled one focus group of seniors to cope with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s better than the test subjects who did not have the advantage of multi-language fluency. As a result, bilingual Alzheimer’s patients who are in the onset of the disease tend to be about 5 years older than early-stage patients who have been exposed to only one language.
Her findings were presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was published in Neurology, 11/09/10.
Researchers believe that bilingual patients of Alzheimer’s are more functional than monolingual patients because of a difference in their brain makeup. The ability to speak more than one language stems from a skill which employs the executive control system or our brains; because bilingual people exercise that brain function more often they are less likely to succumb to the symptoms of dementia.
The executive control center of the brain is essential for the following skills:
“It’s not that being bilingual prevents the disease,” explains Bialystok. “Instead, it allows those who develop Alzheimer’s to deal with it better.”
It’s being hailed as a medical breakthrough: scientists have discovered a way to use a PET brain scan to detect the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease as early as twenty years before any symptoms arise.
Currently, the only way to accurately diagnosis Alzheimer’s is posthumously, via autopsy. But an innovative new brain scan will make it possible to detect the warning signs, clusters of proteins called amyloid plaque, and begin the process of treating the disease immediately.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a radioactive dye called Amyvid is used as a magnet for amyloid plaque; once injected into the arm it attaches itself to the destructive protein. High levels of Amyvid, when picked up on a PET scan, indicate a strong likeliness that somebody will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
While having a high level of Amyvid does not guarantee the presence of Alzheimer’s- approximately 30% of subjects with high Amyvid will never develop any form of dementia- low Amyvid levels may be used to negate that possibility.
Scientists have also linked a correlation between vitamin b12 deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease. A Finnish study which followed 271 senior citizens found that elderly test subjects with sufficiently high levels of vitamin b12 and proportionately low traces of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to dementia, stroke and heart disease) were the least likely of all to suffer Alzheimer’s disease.
B12 deficiency is common among the aging; physicians recommend a regular regimen of vitamin b12 supplementation in order to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s or diminish the symptoms where dementia has already been established.