Vitamin B12 deficiency can have many serious effects on health, such as anemia, dementia and nerve damage. This vitamin is very important in the human body because it works with folate to make DNA, helps keep homocysteine under control and aids in the production of red blood cells.
There are several potential causes of vitamin B12 deficiency, some of which are controllable if people understand them.
One controllable risk factor which has received recent attention is the long-term use of certain antacids called proton pump inhibitors and histamine 2 receptor antagonists. In a December 10, 2013 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was revealed that study participants who had taken heartburn and ulcer medications for over two years were at 65 percent greater risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Study author Dr. Douglas A. Corley of the Kaiser Pemanente Division of Research also reported that there was an association between how high a dose the studied individuals were prescribed, with those receiving doses of more than 1.5 pills per day being at greater risk for deficiency that those taking doses less than 0.75 pills a day. People who are using these medications should speak with their physician about how they can best reduce their risk.
Another risk factor which is within the individual’s control is alcohol consumption. The problems with alcohol arise when a person drinks excessively and begins to replace eating food with drinking alcohol. In addition to the fact that a person may be taking in fewer nutrient-containing foods, alcohol can also damage the liver and other vital organs, making the body less able to absorb nutrients. While there are no specific guidelines for what is a safe level of consumption to prevent alcohol-related vitamin B12 deficiency, studies have shown that both moderate and heavy intake can affect levels of B12. Experts also suggest that a safe level of consumption for general health is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men; so, this may be a good rule of thumb for those wishing to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency as well.
And, finally, vegetarians – especially strict vegans, who consume no animal products whatsoever – may be at greater risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. It order for them to prevent nutritional deficits, it is especially important that they supplement their diet in other ways, such as taking a B12 pill or eating plenty of B12-fortified foods.
Other possible causes of vitamin B12 deficiency which are not within the individual’s control include a lack of intrinsic factor (a substance made by the stomach which aids in vitamin B12 absorption), atrophic gastritis (usually caused by H. pylori infection), stomach or intestinal surgery, small intestinal diseases (e.g. Chohn’s disease, celiac disease) and autoimmune disorders (e.g. Graves’ disease, lupus).
Although vitamin B12 can be obtained through supplementation, the best way to get it is through a healthy, well-balanced diet. Animal foods, such as meats, eggs and milk products are especially rich in this essential nutrient.
By Nancy Schimelpfening