What is intrinsic factor, and how does it affect my vitamin B12 levels? Here are some facts about digesting vitamin B12 wit intrinsic factor, and why you might not be.
No, it’s not a new television show about bonding with your inner child-
Intrinsic factor is an essential antibody which allows you to bond with vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is found in many high protein foods, but unless you have intrinsic factor your body isn’t able to grab the B vitamins needed to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency.
“Does my body really need vitamin B12? Aren’t all B vitamins alike?”
Many of the B vitamins complement each other, but each has its own specific task.
Vitamin B12 has some very important duties which are vital for your survival. If your body doesn’t get sufficient vitamin B12, then it will be unable to perform some of these essential functions.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for:
- Maintaining the myelin sheathe which protects nerve cells, such as those in our hands, mouth and feet
- Directing brain-to-body communication through neuron activity
- Curbing homocysteine levels, which are linked with increased risk for heart attack or stroke
- Producing red blood cells needed to carry oxygen throughout the body and protect the immune system
- DNA synthesis
- Supporting memory retention in people with early signs of age-related dementia
“Which foods are high in vitamin B12?”
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in food sources which are high in protein. The foods that have high levels of B12 are:
- Meat, including lean beef chuck, veal and liver.
- Poultry, such as boneless chicken or turkey breast
- Fish, including salmon, tuna and halibut
- Shellfish, particularly crabmeat, clams, oysters and mussels
- Dairy products, including Swiss cheese, yogurt and milk.
Vegans are urged to take daily vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent vitamin deficiency, as their diet specifically excludes food sources which are rich in vitamin B12.
“Okay. So, I eat plenty of protein foods. Do I still need to worry about vitamin B12 deficiency?”
Yes. Individuals who lack intrinsic factor are unable to properly digest B12 naturally from foods and risk becoming severely deficient in vitamin B12. Some people don’t realize they have low B12 levels until they start experiencing some the characteristic symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. These include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Short-term memory loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Occasional dizziness
- Difficulty with balance and coordination
- Altered taste perception
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
Left unchecked, severe vitamin B12 deficiency
could lead to irreversible neurological damage,
heart attack, or stroke.
“How can I find out if I’m suffering from B12 deficiency?”
The only way to diagnose vitamin B12 deficiency is through a blood screening. Some physicians don’t include vitamin B12 blood testing with yearly checkups, so it’s important to ask your doctor to check your vitamin B12 levels in order to avoid deficiency. Chronic B12 deficiency patients are advised to get their B12 levels checked on a regular basis. Also read: Worried about Low B12 Lab Results?
“Which people are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency?”
There are many individuals who must supplement with B12 vitamins, either because they don’t have the intrinsic factor hormone, or because they lack the stomach acids needed to utilize vitamins such as B12; these include gastric bypass patients, people who take regular antacid medication for heartburn or individuals with autoimmune or gastrointestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or AIDS. Other individuals who must take regular vitamin B12 supplements are vegans, strict vegetarians and diabetics who take metformin.
“What kinds of vitamin B12 supplements are available?”
There are several forms of vitamin B12 supplementation; these include:
- Vitamin B12 injections. For treating chronic B12 deficiency, physicians will often prescribe routine B12 shots. These injections are painful, as they must be inserted in the dense muscular flesh below the buttocks. Some patients are given one round of vitamin B12 shots once per week, for 3-4 weeks, while others with severe vitamin B12 deficiency require a more extended regimen of B12 injections.
- Sublingual vitamin B12 tablets. These are dissolvable pills which are placed under the tongue. Physicians might recommend daily B12 pills as a preventative measure against vitamin B12 deficiency. Some questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of B12 pills, and there are reports that sublingual B12 tablets aren’t absorbed efficiently enough to prevent long-term vitamin B12 deficiency.
Read more about the risks associated with vitamin B12 deficiency: