Month: September 2011

The Virtues of Vitamins: Featuring Vitamin B12

A significant part of my practice is the use of Vitamin B12 or cobalamin.  Vitamin B12 is an essential part of the B vitamin family and its absorption is greatly increased by a substance called Intrinsic Factor produced in the stomach. B12 works with folic acid in the body to perform a large variety of necessary functions involving the health of our heart, blood, bones and nerves as well as immune function and energy metabolism. Some of its uses and roles in health and disease are listed below:

•    Both B12 and folate(folic acid), along with B6, are needed to transform a substance called Homocysteine to safer forms. High homocysteine levels are a risk factor for arterial plaque and heart attacks.
•    High homocysteine levels are also a risk factor for osteoporosis.
•    Red blood cell production and the use of iron is dependent on B12
•    B12 use can reverse Diabetic Neuropathy – a condition common in diabetic patients where sensation, and sometimes motor and autonomic nerve function is compromised. It is needed to maintain the protective layer of fat that surrounds our nerves (myelin sheath) and is essential for nerves to function.
•    The disease Multiple Sclerosis is associated with the loss of this fat layer (myelin sheath).
•    The same problem with demyelination of nerve cells may be a factor in chronic tinnitus or buzzing in the ear.
•    Impaired mental function in the elderly often responds to Vitamin B12 supplementation. However the best responders are those who have had symptoms for less than a year and even better if less than 6 months.
•    Depression, especially in the elderly, responds well to B12 and Folate therapy. B12 and folate are essential to produce mood regulators like serotonin and dopamine.
•    B12 injection was used in asthmatic patients resulting in improved breathing with exertion, appetite, sleep and overall wellbeing. It appears to have even better results in patients with sulfite sensitivity, common in asthma patients.
•    In HIV patients, the fall of their T-cells and progression to an AIDS condition is associated with decreasing levels of B12.  This may indicate a fall in nutritional status in general and therefore a decrease in overall immune function.
•    A major role of B12 and folic acid is in reproduction. They are both essential to make DNA and new cells and for the development of a healthy fetus. B12 supplementation helps to increase sperm counts.

Although the RDA of B12 is only 2 micrograms, therapeutic doses are much higher. There is no known toxicity level for B12; however, high doses of B12 alone will mask any symptoms of folate deficiency. Left unchecked, folate deficiency can cause permanent nerve damage. The reverse is also true. And since B12 reactivates folic acid, any B12 deficiency will cause a folic acid deficiency. Deficiencies in B12 are slow to develop because it is stored in our liver, kidneys and other tissues for years.  These stores have to be depleted before symptoms will appear. The first signs and symptoms show up in the nervous system. Severe deficiency will result in Pernicious Anemia – identified through blood tests.

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

•    Smooth, swollen, red tongue
•    Mouth or tongue soreness
•    Loss of appetite
•    Weight loss
•    Diarrhea
•    Constipation
•    Chest pain or Heart Palpiations
•    Pale skin or Jaundice
•    Shortness of Breath
•    Fatigue
•    Weakness
•    Dizziness
•    Trouble with Balance
•    Fainting
•    Numbness, cold, pins & needles and/or burning feelings, especially in hands & feet
•    Depression
•    Confusion
•    Poor memory
•    Dementia that mimics Alzheimer’s Disease in the elderly
•    Developmental Delays and Failure to Thrive

Vitamin B12 can be supplemented in 3 main ways: intramuscular injections, sublingual tablets or oral supplementation. Talk to your ND to see if B12 may be suitable for you and which form would be most appropriate.

By Dr. Shawna Clark, BA(Hons), ND.  For more information about naturopathic medicine please visit http://naturopath-toronto.com or to schedule an appointment please call
416.481.0222 or email Maria at Maria@ForcesofNature.ca.  You may also contact Dr. Clark directly at SClarkND@ForcesofNature.ca

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