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B-12 Deficiency Leads to Mental Health Problems

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January 16, 2015 (Updated: August 22, 2018)
Lily Moran

I just read a staggering study about a patient we’ll call Mrs. M.

Mrs. M was a 52-year-old, post-menopausal, life-long vegetarian who was admitted to her local hospital after being in a stupor for about 10 straight days.

Doctors examining her reported her to be mute, presenting “odd” motor movements and poor flexibility. She was negative, wore a perplexed look on her face, and suffered both urinary and stool incontinence.

Although she had a slightly rapid heartbeat, other cardio, respiratory, and neurological tests showed nothing abnormal. Her blood count was fine as were tests of her liver, thyroid, and kidneys. She didn’t have a fever and had no history of head injury or drug use.

However, she did have a 14 year history of feeling tired and easily fatigued. Mrs. M was also known to be an excessive worrier and a poor sleeper who had a poor appetite. She’d been treated by a therapist, for years, for crying spells, anxiety and odd motor movements, like forcibly closing her eyes and flailing her arms.

In addition, this poor woman suffered through electroshock therapy as well as anti-psychotic medications and she only got worse…

Until FINALLY someone thought to check her vitamin B12 levels.

A few vitamin B12 shots, as well as consistent oral supplementation, and six weeks later, not only had she shown a dramatic recovery, but she was back to the upbeat, positive, energetic woman she was 14 years ago, when she first started to show the undiagnosed signs of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Obviously, Mrs. M’s story is an extreme one. But it also sends an important message about how often symptoms, illnesses, and ailments can be corrected with just a little more attention to basic human nutrition, especially when it comes to vitamin B12.

In another case study, a 62-year-old man developed numbness and a “pins and needles” sensation in his hands. He had trouble walking, experienced severe joint pain, began turning yellow, and became progressively short of breath.

It wasn’t heart disease…it wasn’t a liver disorder…it was simply not enough B12 in his diet.

If you’re a meat eater, B12 isn’t hard to find in food sources since it’s abundant in fish, shellfish, meat (especially poultry), eggs, and milk.

So I have some important information for you if you’re a vegetarian. But even if you’re a meat eater, you’re still not safe from dangerously low B12 levels.

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Minor B12 deficiencies can lead to fatigue, depression, and poor memory. In some cases, it leads to mania and psychosis. Severe deficiency, as you learned above, can be completely debilitating and even lead to irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.

As I mentioned, naturally occurring B12 can be found in many meat products. So if you’re a vegetarian (as was the case for Mrs. M), supplemental B12 is especially important.

But, no matter what your chosen diet, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for B12 is between 2 and 3 micrograms (mcg) daily. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition actually recommends 6 mcg daily, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

If you ask me, it’s better to err on the side of the higher dose. Especially since absorption problems are common as we age, and it’s nearly impossible to take too much, since B12 has very low toxicity. Plus, because it’s water soluble, your body will just excrete what it doesn’t need.

So how can you tell if you’re deficient, before things get out of hand?

Well, there’s a simple blood test. So, if you think you’re at risk, you can ask your doctor to assess your B12 levels. And if they are below normal, the next step is to understand why.

The Institute of Medicine states that between 10-30% of older people have a tough time absorbing B12 from foods. So if there are signs of deficiency, your doctor may also run tests to make sure you have the necessary enzymes to break down and absorb B12.

Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and other nicotine sources can lead to poor B12 absorption.

And a lot of today’s most common antacids—H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet or PPIs like Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium—diminish your ability to absorb B12 from your foods since you need stomach acid to break down proteins. I recommend natural antacid alternatives to deal with heartburn. But antacids do not interfere with B12 supplements.

If you’re looking for supplements, the methylated form of B12 (methylcobalamin) is best. It’s not always easy to find in your average grocery store supplements. So talk to your doctor or local natural health store if you need help finding it.

For the best, fastest results, you may also want to ask your doc about B12 shots.

B12 deficiencies are more common that most people realize. And the effects of deficiency range from bothersome to debilitating. But it’s also 100% reversible.

So if you think you’re at risk for deficiency, the sooner you act, the better. Your brain and body will thank you!

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