Almost 40% of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin B12 according to a recent study from Tufts University in Boston and a vast majority of them are completely unaware.
Researchers looked at 3,000 men and women participating in the ongoing Framingham Offspring Study
They found 39 percent with plasma B12 levels in the "low normal" range - below 258 picomoles per liter (pmol/L).
Although the currently accepted deficiency level is 148 pmol/L, some people exhibit neurological symptoms at significantly higher levels, said study leader Katherine Tucker, a nutritional epidemiologist.
Nearly 9 percent of the study population fell below the current deficiency level, although the researchers admit that there is a question as to what the proper cutoff value for deficiency should be.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency can cause pernicious anemia, which is marked by fewer but larger red blood cells. Deficiencies can cause walking and balance disturbances, a loss of vibration sensation, confusion, and even dementia.
The study covered people from 26 to 83 years old, and was funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's chief scientific agency.
Probably the most surprising result by far was that the youngest group (26 to 49 years old) had about the same B12 status as the oldest group (65 and up).
- The use of B12 supplements use dropped the percentage of people with plasma B12 below 185 pmol/L -- from 20% to 8%.
Since the body requires B12 to make the protective coating surrounding the nerves, inadequate B12 can result in nerve damage as well.
Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass.
It is important to know that most oral vitamin B12 supplements do not work well at all. Vitamin B12 is the largest known vitamin. It is huge and it is not easily absorbed. Your body has developed a very sophisticated system to absorb B12. This involves the production of intrinsic factor in the stomach which attaches to B12 and allows it to be absorbed in the end of the small intestine.
If your stomach lining is damaged from an ulcer or a Helicobacter infection you will not produce intrinsic factor very well and you will not be able to absorb B12 very well, if at all. An imbalance of bacteria in the small intestine can also produce impaired absorption, as would removal of a portion of the small intestine (commonly done in Crohn's Disease).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is VERY common, almost universal, in strict vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin B12 is NOT readily available, if at all, in plants. It is an animal product. If a vegetarian is eating eggs or fish the risk for B12 deficiency is considerably reduced.
So, if you suspect you are deficient in vitamin B12, I would encourage you to obtain your B12 in a more absorbable form. The common recommendation is to use injections. My recommendation for that would be to use 1 ml once a day for two weeks and then three times a week until the 30 ml bottle is finished. An alternative to the injections would be to use DMSO and vitamin B12. The DMSO causes the B12 to be absorbed very similar to an injection without the cost or pain of a needle. Intranasal B12 is also available, but unless you have a prescription card I would not recommend it, as it is VERY expensive.
One strong inhibitor of vitamin B12 absorption is the very popular drug Prilosec (omeprazole) which has been clearly shown to decrease B12 absorption (Ann Pharmacother 1999 May;33:641-3).