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What do vitamin B12 deficiency, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis have in common? More than you realize. For one, vitamin B12 deficiency occurs often with fibromyalgia, MS, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Another clue is homocysteine, an excitotoxin that rattles your nervous system, sometimes with debilitating results.
Part I introduced you to excitotoxins…now in Part II, find out how to keep neurotoxins from disrupting your life.
Many neurodegenerative illnesses and other conditions are linked with elevated levels of excitotoxins such as homocysteine:
Pernicious anemia (Vitamin B12 deficiency)
“Glutamate and aspartate are doubled in viral meningitis, acute multiple sclerosis (MS) and myelopathy compared with control subjects and patients with peripheral facial nerve palsy.”
What causes elevated homocysteine levels?
When your body produces homocysteine, it is immediately broken down by vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxal phosphate). Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 keep your homocysteine levels down to a healthy minimum where already healthy homocysteine levels occur.
However, if you have vitamin B12 deficiency, including pernicious anemia, then you don’t have enough vitamin B12 to break down homocysteine.
As a result, homocysteine levels spike, permeating your neurons, causing irreparable damage to your nerve cells and increasing your risk for stroke, heart attack, blood clots, and memory problems.
“…increased homocysteine levels in the central nervous system characterize patients fulfilling the criteria for both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.”
If you have pernicious anemia, then you may not be able to digest dietary forms of vitamin B12 (food, pills), due to a digestive system disorder.
In order to maintain healthy homocysteine levels (and thus gain the neurological health benefits of B12), you need to insert vitamin B12 directly into your bloodstream through vitamin B12 shots.
For maximum vitamin B12 benefits, experts recommend supplementing with extra over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12, as well. Many patients experience improved neurological health in as little as a few days following vitamin B12 supplementation.
Please tell us…
Do you have one or more of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency as described?
Do you suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency and other comorbid illnesses such as fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis?
How likely are you to change your diet and increase your vitamin B12, now that you know about the risk factors involved?
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What do vitamin B12 deficiency-pernicious anemia, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis have in common? More than you realize. For one, vitamin B12 deficiency occurs often with fibromyalgia, MS, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Another clue is homocysteine, an excitotoxin that rattles your nervous system, sometimes with debilitating results.
What are excitotoxins?
Dr. Russell Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills defines excitotoxins as amino acids “that react with specialized receptors in the brain in such a way as to lead to destruction of certain types of brain cells.” Because they damage your nerve cells, excitotoxins are also referred to as neurotoxins.
Damaged nerve cells are one of the many side effects of vitamin B12 deficiency-pernicious anemia.
Homocysteine, for example, is an excitotoxin. Too much homocysteine causes your brain’s nerve cells to malfunction, breaking down the myelin sheathe and the blood-brain barrier (BBB), letting in free radicals, and potentially killing brain cells that can never be replicated.
Elevated homocysteine levels are also one of many side effects of vitamin B12 deficiency-pernicious anemia.
Keeping your heart healthy requires making many lifestyle changes; most people don’t realize that avoiding vitamin B12 deficiency is just as essential for your heart as eating heart-healthy foods, exercising, and reducing stress. Below are some pointers for promoting cardiovascular health, including reasons why extra vitamin B12 supplements are beneficial for a healthy heart.
1- Monitor your vitamin B12 levels
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, supports many necessary biochemical functions in your body. Vitamin B12 helps you produce plenty of red blood cells, helps maintain your nervous system, assists in building DNA, and sustains normal metabolism, cognitive functioning, strength, and energy.
Vitamin B12 is also an essential nutrient for heart health, as it regulates homocysteine levels. In many studies, the hormone homocysteine has been found to increase your risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Vitamin B12 helps your body break down homocysteine, thus reducing your risk for heart disease.
Goal:Get tested! Elderly individuals, people diagnosed with pernicious anemia, patients of gastrointestinal disorders, or anybody who has had gastrointestinal surgery involving the removal of the ileum (gastric bypass) cannot absorb vitamin B12 in the stomach, and must take B12 supplements in order to avoid suffering B12 deficiency. To find out if you are at risk, request a blood screening for vitamin B12 deficiency from your doctor.
All health experts agree that incorporating at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least 5 days per week, is the single most important lifestyle change you can make for your heart. Conversely, increasing evidence indicates that living a sedentary lifestyle- watching several hours of television each day, sitting at a desk for long periods without breaks, and shunning exercise- is one of the biggest contributing factors to heart disease.
Goal: Break it down! If you’re daunted by the idea of spending 30 minutes on a treadmill, plan three 10-minute breaks in the day for exercise, instead. Walk your dog or do a window-shopping run around the mall (without stopping!). If you work at a desk, set your timer to alert you to get up and stretch at regular intervals.
Prevent cardiovascular disease by following a low fat, low cholesterol diet. Avoid saturated trans-fats, and opt instead for small doses of healthy monounsaturated fats, like olive or canola oils. If you normally eat red meat, switch instead to lean poultry, which also contains plenty of vitamin B12. In addition to cutting down on fats, you should also eat more vitamin-enriched foods that are low in salt and refined carbohydrates.
Goal: Spice it up! Train your tongue to like nutritious, low-fat foods that have fewer “empty” calories. Go for high-fiber vegetables, grains, and legumes, lower-fat meats, cheeses, and spreads, and shake things up with dashes of cayenne pepper, ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and granulated garlic. By focusing on the spices, you’ll feel more satisfied, and less likely to miss that fatty mouth-feel of fried foods.
Numerous studies conclude that obesity is one of the greatest health risks that affect people today. Being overweight overburdens your entire body, contributing to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and other life threatening conditions.
Goal: Size it down! By cutting down the size of your plate, you alternatively cut down your dress size. Try using smaller plates, include veggies, omit surgery drinks, eat slower, and resist the urge to go for seconds.
If you think you might be suffering some of the symptoms of heart disease, such as breathlessness, heart palpitations, increased sweating, call your doctor right away. Ignoring even the smallest signs can be a matter of life or death.
Goal: See your doctor! Pay attention to bodily cues, and schedule a checkup, immediately.
6- Keep your emotions in check
Stress, anxiety, and depression are all taxing on your heart. Succumbing to anger increases your chances for heart attack, as well.
Goal: Talk it out! When you feel nervous, sad, or stressed, confide in a friend or close family member. If you’re uncomfortable asking others for help, schedule a meeting with a psychiatrist or social worker, instead.
At the very least, you should quit smoking in order to improve your heart health and your lungs. Smoking is linked with asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Goal: Don’t give up! If you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past, then try again. Research shows that the more times you attempt to quit smoking cigarette, the greater the chances of eventually reaching that smoke-free goal. Ask your healthcare provider about quit-smoking programs, or try using a nicotine patch.
If you snore, then you might be a candidate for heart failure or stroke, according to latest research on the heavy risks of snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is one of many factors that may lead to cardiovascular disease.
Goal: Wear your mask! So far, the best treatment for severe sleep apnea is wearing a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device (CPAP) while sleeping.
10- Take care of your choppers
Over time, your teeth develop a layer of plaque that contains bacteria. Unless you brush and floss regularly, you can get gum disease, causing bacteria to seep into your blood supply and contributing to heart disease.
Goal: Floss it! Floss and brush morning and evening, and floss after meals.
Don’t fall victim to the “all or nothing” attitude. You don’t have to become a health and fitness enthusiast, but nor should you throw up your hands in despair. Accept that with every one success come numerous setbacks, and that lifestyle changes happen slowly, over a period of weeks, months, or even years.
Goal: Take baby steps! All successful weight-loss and fitness experts encourage you to set small, reachable short-term goals, in addition to the long-term goal of better health. This allows you to feel a small measure of success, and gives you the motivation you need to stay on the wagon. Congratulate yourself for losing 10% of your weight, losing a dress size, or every time you make a healthy food choice.
12- Respect your medications
Don’t think that just because you feel better, that you can stop taking your blood pressure medications. Many heart patients make that common mistake. If you are unhappy with a side effect of certain medications, then ask your doctor for an alternative. Conversely, don’t rely on medications alone to keep you healthy. It is essential to follow a heart-healthy diet, in addition to exercising and reducing stress, for optimal cardiovascular health.
Goal: Get organized! Keep your meds somewhere where you won’t forget them. If necessary, store a batch of precut tablets in a pill keeper.
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.
Numerous studies linking elevated homocysteine with mental illness prove that symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency caused by low B12 (cyanocobalamin) in the blood are often mistaken for mental health issues, such as depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.
What is homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that your body makes when you eat meat products. Having too much homocysteine in your blood supply causes damage to your arteries and increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.
What is B12, and how does it regulate homocysteine?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that occurs exclusively in animal-based foods such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and milk products. Some of the riches sources of vitamin B12 are organ meats (liver, heart), oysters, and clams.
Together with vitamin B6 and folic acid, vitamin B12 helps break down homocysteine and keep them at a safe, healthy level. Without sufficient stores of these essential vitamins, homocysteine levels would escalate, leaving you at a high risk for developing diseases associated with elevated homocysteine levels, such as neurological impairments and cardiovascular disease.
Elevated homocysteine plasma levels are one of many symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
What illnesses are associated with elevated plasma homocysteine levels?
Scientists believe that homocysteine is behind a wide variety of conditions and illnesses, from visual problems and eating disorders, to heart disease and schizophrenia.
Currently, most scientists agree that elevated homocysteine levels share a significant correlation with the following diseases:
Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries)
Increased risk of heart attacks
Increased risk of strokes
How many studies link elevated plasma homocysteine levels with mental illness?
A growing number of scientific studies prove a significant correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency, homocysteine levels, and mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, depression, chronic fatigue, dementia, and even eating disorders in women.
1- In Beersheva, Israel, a study focused on treating patients of Alzheimer’s and cerebrovascular disease with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 supplements. In this randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, scientists of Ben Gurion University noted dramatic cognitive benefits in patients who received the vitamin supplements.
2- In Boston, Massachusetts, a Tufts University study linking low vitamin B12 and cognitive impairment in the elderly noted a direct correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia, macrocytosis, and cognitive problems such as dementia.
4- Elevated plasma levels of homocysteine in females with eating disorders were also the focus of this German study that linked excessive homocysteine with depression, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
5- A Swedish study on older patients with mental illness concluded that age and plasma homocysteine levels more accurately predict cognitive functioning skills than brain imaging, as measured by the Mini mental state examination (MMSE).
Read more about vitamin B12 deficiency and mental illness:
Elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid known to contribute to heart disease symptoms, is called “hyperhomocysteinemia.”
Having too much homocysteine in your blood increases your chances of developing “coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.”
Homocysteine damages the inner linings of your arteries and causes blood clots.
B vitamins, such as vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folate help your body break down homocysteine in your blood, keeping it at a healthy minimum.
People with high vitamin B12 levels have the lowest concentration of homocysteine levels.
People with a family history of heart disease should check their homocysteine levels routinely, in addition to including B vitamins in their diet, or at least supplementing with vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate.
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, and brewer’s yeast. However, if you lack intrinsic factor, or if you have had bariatric surgery, then your body is not able to digest vitamin B12 naturally from food. Your only course of action in order to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency is to supplement with Vitamin B12.
Like B12, vitamin B6 sources also include protein foods, such as liver, fish, and other meats, in addition to fortified cereals.
Folate is a B vitamin that occurs in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fortified cereals.
Brain health and vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining cognitive health and addressing mild memory problems related to aging. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common health problem for senior citizens who suffer the beginning stages of dementia.
Brain atrophy is what happens when brain tissue disintegrates. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of age-related dementia, a reduction in the brain’s gray matter correlates to symptoms such as memory loss, disorientation, paranoia, and uncharacteristically aggressivebehavior. In addition to losing brain volume, some elderly individuals also lose bone mass.
B12- the Brain Vitamin
In a recent study, elderly test participants who had vitamin B12 deficiency scored poorly on cognitive skills and memory testing, compared to their peers. In addition, MRIscans indicated that senior citizens with low B12 levels also had less brain mass than peers who had normal levels of vitamin B12.
This is not the first time that researchers found a correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive health. In 2008, Oxford University scientists discovered a link between elevated levels of homocysteine (an indicator of low vitamin B12 levels) and brain shrinkage. Homocysteine is an amino acid that increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke.
As you get older, your body slows down, and stops producing as many stomach acids. Unfortunately, your body still needs stomach acids in order to digest essential vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12. People who lack sufficient stomach acids- the elderly, people on strong heartburn medications- lack the ability to digest vitamin B12 naturally, and must receive vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent vitamin deficiency.
In order to detect vitamin B12 deficiency, doctors recommend that elderly individuals receive regular blood testing for homocysteine levels and active vitamin B12, particularly if they exhibit any symptoms of cognitive decline, such as short-term memory loss. If diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency, then your doctor will prescribe vitamin B12 injections or sublingual vitaminB12.
For extra vitamin B12, or as an alternative to painful injections, a popular option is to supplement with over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12’s position in the upkeep of one’s health is central. Among many of the aspects of health-maintenance B12 helps to control, minimize and flush the levels of an extremely toxic by-product of hormonal metabolism named homocysteine. Recent research has uncovered that a dangerous condition of elevated homocysteine levels can result from even minor B12 depletion. Individuals most at risk for having elevated levels of homocysteine are those who are most in need of vitamin B12 supplementation – vegetarians, individuals nearing middle-age, individuals suffering from poor absorption and unhealthy lifestyles. For all these groups, homocysteine levels soar and remain undisturbed as the body is unable to control and lessen its amounts.
Homocysteine appears to be a nerve and vessel toxin, promoting mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, birth defects, recurrent pregnancy loss, neural tube defects, eye disorders, increased fractures in elderly persons and nerve damage. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes Ischemic heart disease (IHD/heart attack), coronary artery disease (CAD/ plaque obstruction of the coronary arteries to the heart), and stroke. An elevated level of blood serum homocysteine is a powerful risk factor for all these issues
Homocysteine auto-oxidizes and reacts with reactive oxygen intermediates and damage endothelial cells (which are extremely important for protection of the blood vessel) and result in a higher risk of forming a thrombus (blood clot). Although homocysteine does not affect bone density, it appears to affects collagen by interfering with the cross-linking between the collagen fibers and the tissues they reinforce. The damage inflicted on these connective tissues results in increased cases of fracture, bone damage and importantly atherosclerosis which is specifically linked to high homocysteine levels.
Diseases which are associated with elevated homocysteine levels are long-term emergent problems. In other words these illnesses occur due prolonged exposure to elevated homocysteine which damages the tissues through its toxicity. In fact, elevated homocysteine levels are a part of aging, whether due to poor absorption in the GI or other reasons. As people are now living longer, the elevated homocysteine has more time to do its damage to the body, thus a spike is noted in illnesses associated with homocysteine levels and aging. Logically everyone should eventually attempt to control their homocysteine levels through B12 supplementation if they wish to lessen the risk of these illnesses
How is homocysteine produced in the body?
Methionine is an essential amino acid involved in hormonal metabolism which is obtained exclusively from ingested protein. In the processes of hormonal metabolism some methionine is turned into homocysteine. The body converts much of the homocysteine back into methionine through an intricate process involving the vitamin B12. If the individual is B12-deficient, homocysteine levels will begin to increase as the reaction of the compounds cannot take place. There are several studies discussing the benefits of B12 supplementation on homocysteine levels and health, and following are several excerpts from these studies.
Medically established normal serum levels of homocysteine range from 2.2 to 13.2 µmol/l. The levels of homocysteine in a typical Western population are around 12 µmol/l. Although this is considered to be within the “normal” range, it is not necessarily healthy.
The analysis of the Oxford Vegetarian Study reported in 2002 showed that overall mortality was the same between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. But vegetarians had 2.2 times the death rate from mental and neurological diseases as non-vegetarians.
The vegetarians had higher homocysteine and lower B12 levels leading to more neurological damage and problems.
Appleby PN, Key TJ, Thorogood M, Burr ML, Mann J. Mortality in British vegetarians. Public Health Nutr. 2002 Feb;5(1):29-36.
11 prospective studies of IHD and 8 of stroke tried to examine and anaylize the effects on health if homocysteine levels were lowered by 25%. The studies involved 9,025 people.
A 25% lower homocysteine level reduced the risk of IHD by 11%, and the risk of stroke by 19%.
In 16 prospective studies of IHD, a 5 µmol/l increase in homocysteine increased the risk of contracting IHD by 23%.
In 8 prospective studies on strokes, a 5 µmol/l increase in homocysteine increased risk of a stroke by 42%.
Homocysteine is better controlled through adequate level of B12, B6 and folate (also known as folic acid). Since vegetarian diets are typically high in folate, the elevated homocysteine levels are normally due to a low B12 intake which, as studies have shown, cannot be viably obtained from ingestion of plant-life. The greater effect of elevated homocysteine on stroke compared to heart disease could explain why vegetarians have not been shown to have lower rates of death from stroke, while they do have lower rates of death from heart disease.
The British Medical Journal published an analysis of 12 studies on the effectiveness of reducing homocysteine levels with folic acid and vitamin B12. They concluded that folic acid in the range of 500-5,000 µg/day reduced homocysteine by 25%, and that B12 supplements (average intake of 500 µg/day) reduced it a further 7%. An addition of B6 did not show any further homocysteine level reduction.