Why is deficiency of vitamin B12 in the news lately?
Previously, the meat-eating public was convinced (or had been convinced by the meat-producing interests) that deficiency of vitamin B12 is something vegetarians - and most certainly vegans - need to be concerned about.
Also, over time, older adults (meat or no meat) learned that they too were losing their ability to produce enough stomach acid to metabolize the B12 vitamin.
In other words, extraction of natural B12 from animal-based products declines with age.
Most vegans (the people on a purely plant-based diet) are aware of their need to supplement this vital vitamin in its synthetic form.
Those Americans (particularly older adults and seniors) who consume animal products (red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy) are also in need of supplementation.
The vitamin B12 deficiency is more widespread than we thought. And the problem is obviously severely underappreciated.
Here is why.
Millions of adherents to the Standard American Diet (SAD) are suffering from indigestion, acid reflux and heartburn.
To deal with such problems, proton-pump inhibitors (such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec) were prescribed in 2013 to the tune of around 157 million.
Other medications like Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac also interfere with absorption of the B12 vitamin.
So, the water-soluble B12, when naturally present in animal products, is bound to these animal proteins. The hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called gastric protease can't do their job of releasing the vitamin if there aren't enough of them in the stomach due to all the medications.
A special protein called intrinsic factor is also involved in the absorption of the vitamin into the blood stream.
When you're deficient of this vital vitamin, your body cannot produce enough red blood cells. The cells deliver oxygen throughout your body. Lack of red blood cells results in anemia.
Low vitamin B12 levels can over time also result in nerve damage.
This can manifest in loss of balance (as if aging weren't challenging enough) and tingling and/or numbness in hands and feet.
Supplements contain the synthetic form of vitamin B12. It is already in a "free form" and so doesn't need stomach acids to be properly absorbed.
Of course, you can also get your vitamin from fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and plant milks.
I encourage you to select high quality fortified foods. Many of the sugary cereals on the market shelves may provide you with little benefit other than B12.
I strongly believe that a well-balanced whole food, plant-based diet, supplemented with vitamin B12 (see Benefits of Vitamin B12) is your best bet to improve your chances for healthy longevity.
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