Although sources of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) are mainly animal products, the deficiency of Vitamin B12 is relatively common in USA, as it was found that in every four adults there is one person with vitamin B12 deficiency. This condition was shown to be related to higher risks of developing certain types of cancers.
The normal function of vitamin B12 in the body is to form the myelin sheath needed for proper nerve communication. It helps food absorption, digestion and fat and carbohydrate metabolism. It also aids iron absorption which is necessary for normal blood cell formation and proper functioning and growth of nervous system. Immune system function and reproductive health are also depending on vitamin B12.
People at risk
Since animal products are the main sources for vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians are the most susceptible populations for deficiency of this vitamin. Nonetheless, people eating meat may also suffer from Cobalamin deficiency especially those with malabsorption state. Also people over 50 years-age are at risk. Other possible reasons include regular heavy coffee drinking, some medications (such as Metformin used for treatment of Diabetes type II and antiacids), having weak or imbalance in the digestive system, or having bacterial infection (such as H. pylori).
The intrinsic Factor
Several disorders can lead to digestive system weakness and imbalance. For example; Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, leaky gut and food sensitivity.
Since the vitamin B12 molecule presents as large molecules to the blood stream, it must be associated with a binding agent, aka “intrinsic factor”. It’s produced in stomach lining, binds to vitamin B12 molecule and then moves toward small intestine where they are absorbed.
The normal production of intrinsic factor is altered in individuals with imbalances in the digestive tract. Autoimmune lack of intrinsic factor production is called pernicious anemia and is considered the most leading cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
Generally, the deficiency occurs with slow onset and may not be noticeable. This is may be ascribed to that vitamin B12 is not excreted through the urine, like other vitamin B family members.
Vitamin B12 deficiency and Cancer
Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in DNA synthesis, keeping the genes rejuvenated and fresh. Deficiency of vitamin B12 with folic acid may lead to DNA break down and mutations with subsequent cancer occurrence.
The deficiency of vitamin B12 and folic acid is related to breast cancer through affecting cellular methylation, a process which is vital for most of body functions. Healthy methylation processes can lead to conversion of Xeno-estrogens (aggressive) into more mild estrogens, causing lower risk of breast cancer. Abnormal methylation processes was found to occur in cancer cells rather than healthy ones.
Acute lymphoblastic anemia may also result from decreased B12 levels in the blood. The biomarkers for chromosomal breakage of white blood cells are found to be improved with adequate supplementation of vitamin B12 and folate.
The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include brain fog “memory disturbances and lack of motivation”, mood swings, muscle weakness, fatigue, depression and tingling in the extremities. Cases of extreme vitamin B12 depletion show dementia, blindness or even brain damage. Testing for vitamin B12 deficiency will be more difficult because its levels in the blood may not reflect the general state of vitamin in the body.
The best approach in suspected people is to start vitamin supplementation and check if symptoms improve. Eggs are considered natural sources, while synthetic forms are available in tablet or spray form. Spray delivers a more condensed dose which is more absorbable.
Improving functions of digestive tract is another way to prevent this condition and other serious illness. Don’t hesitate to take an action immediately if suspect vitamin B12 deficiency because it yields high risk for cancer development, anemia, neurological damage and other conditions.