Last Updated on March 10, 2010 by Jimson Lee
Yesterday, I wrote about Why Vitamin B12 is the scapegoat.
People are often asking what is all the hype about Vitamin B12 and why are athletes concerned about causing a deficiency?
The deficiency is most common in a vegetarian diet. Most athletes I know are meat eaters or at least don’t eat red meat (chicken and fish only). For more information, read this post on the differences between beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Carl Lewis is a famous vegetarian. Personal Development coach Steve Pavlina is a true vegan currently trying a 30 day Raw Food diet.
Among all products, the most readily available sources of Vitamin B12 is in animal products or “meat”. The causes of such deficiency can be avoided by supplementing daily with Vitamin B12 pills. Even when you believe you maintain a carefully balanced vegetarian diet, Vitamin B12 is the one to watch.
So what are the main causes of deficiency and how good are its minerals?
The main causes of the deficiency fall into 2 groups: Nutritional factors and absorption problems.
1) Nutritional Reasons
Meat products are the only foods that provide significant amounts of vitamin B12. The richest sources are liver and kidneys of consumable-meat stuff. Fish, eggs, cheese and meat also contain good amounts. To my knowledge, there are no significant herbal sources (please comment on the form below if I am incorrect… I’ve been wrong before!)
Some researchers claim to have discovered vitamin B12 in algae, seaweeds and fermented foods such as tempeh – however recently this has been disproved.
There are two types of people at risk of this vitamin B12 deficiency. This include:
- For people consuming alcoholic beverages
A vegan diet should be supplemented with this mineral. The body is able to store this vitamin and also has mechanisms for recycling it when there is a dietary lack. However it will eventually become depleted.
It is particularly important to take the supplements immediately on converting to a vegan diet, because it takes some time for the body to become more efficient in recycling. Calcium may also need to be supplemented. This mineral is necessary for B12 absorption and may be lacking in vegan diets. You may think the reason is lack of milk and dairy products, but you would be very surprised on the amounts of calcium in leafy greens.
Alcohol causes depletion of the vitamin B12 and other vitamins and minerals. Over consumption of alcohol will damage liver and intestine function resulting in poor nutrient absorption
I am also looking into research that claims coffee depletes the B complex vitamins. More on this topic later.
2) People with Absorption Problems
This vitamin is a large molecule and quite hard for our body to absorb but the body has developed a sophisticated system for dealing with it. The stomach produces a glycoprotein called Intrinsic factor that carries vitamin B12 through the digestive tract for absorption in the lower part of the small intestine (or ileum).
The mechanism for absorbing this mineral may be affected by a variety of factors:
- Surgery to remove part of the stomach or the ileum may result in lower absorption rates.
- Insufficient gastric stomach acids. If for any reason there is an insufficiency of hydrochloric acid it will not be available for absorption. This situation may occur for several reasons, including long-term use of antacids and certain pharmaceutical drugs such was Metformin (a diabetic drug).
- Helicobacter Pylori bacterial infection of the stomach. This bacteria infects the stomach lining and may cause ulcers. Although H. Pylori infection is quite common and may cause no apparent symptoms it can prevent the production of intrinsic factor and thereby impair Vitamin B12 absorption.
- Parasites such as tape worms. This is less common in modern cities, but more common in third world countries.
- Other chronic gastro-intestinal problems such as Crohn’s Disease.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B deficiency?
A long-term deficiency of Vitamin B can be extremely serious. This vitamin works closely with folic acid to produce haemoglobin in red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in DNA synthesis and proper nerve and brain function.
There are some early-warning symptoms of B12 depletion such as burning sensations in the hands and feet, numbness and damaged mental function. However these signs may go unnoticed before a more serious problem develops.
The lack of this supplement can lead to a blood disorder called Pernicious Anaemia which may result in blindness and permanent damage to the nervous system. You definitely want to seek medical advice before addressing the deficiency!
Click below for more information on TwinLab B-12 Dots Tablets.
Disclaimer: Consult your physician before altering your diet or taking supplements. It is your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness and usefulness of any information, opinion or advice contained in the above article.