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Why Gut Health is Key to Having Healthy Vitamin B12 Levels

Why Gut Health is Key to Having Healthy Vitamin B12 Levels

Not getting enough vitamin B12?

Look after your gut. If you’re feeling fatigued, have weak muscles, aching joints, numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, insomnia, depression, trouble concentrating, forgetfulness or inflammatory gut disorders, you could be lacking in vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a precious B vitamin, essential for healthy red blood cell production and a host of functions from supporting immunity and promoting healthy digestion to maintaining normal energy levels.

Sadly, vitamin B12 insufficiency or deficiency is not uncommon. As it is found in animal foods, if you are vegetarian and particularly vegan, you are more at risk of B12 deficiency. Poor gut health can also radically impair your vitamin B12 absorption, so regardless

of whether you’re vegan or not, if you have digestive issues of any kind, this could also increase your chances of having subpar vitamin B12 levels.

10 health benefits of vitamin B12

1) Digestive health

Cobalamin contributes to the shaping, structure and function of human gut microbial communities, helping to maintain your gut mucosa and encouraging a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

It promotes healthy digestion and reduced inflammation in the gut, helping to prevent conditions like leaky gut and other inflammatory digestive disorders.

2) Child development

It is vital for the healthy growth of the peripheral and central nervous systems, bone marrow, skin, mucous membranes, bones and vessels in children.

3) Maintenance of healthy cells

Vitamin B12 is needed to regulate the growth and repair of cells. These processes ensure your cells work efficiently, keeping you less vulnerable to illness and disease.

4) Supporting brain function

Adequate B12 levels help to maintain mental alertness, concentration and cognitive function. It protects against neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Studies also suggest an association between low vitamin B12 and cognitive decline, and some researchers think that vitamin B12 deficiency might even be responsible for a reversible form of dementia. Moreover, there could also be a link between vitamin B12 deficiency and brain shrinkage. 

5) Numbness, tingling and back pain

Because it promotes healthy neurological activity, vitamin B12 deficiency has the potential to cause nerve conduction issues or damage. One of the symptoms is numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

Researchers in Palermo, Sicily ran a trial on 60 patients with lower back pain and sciatica where they injected vitamin B12 intramuscularly. The results were favourable, with a sharp decrease in pain and disability more significant than those in the placebo group. No side effects were experienced, and even patients who didn’t have low vitamin B12 levels benefitted from the treatment.

According to the research team, various studies on the clinical effects of vitamin B12 on painful vertebral syndromes have indicated that it can contribute to shortening the treatment time and reducing daily NSAID dosage (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Related: How Eggshell Membrane Benefits Arthritis and Joint Pain

6) Depression and anxiety

Along with folate, B12 aids in the functioning of your nervous system. Low B12 is linked to mood disorders, including depression. One longitudinal study lasting three years showed that depressed men with a higher intake of vitamin B12 from food had a reduced risk of depression.

Research shows that depressed patients can commonly have decreased blood serum levels of B6 and B12. It may also help to ease stress.

7) Sleep

A healthy balance of vitamin B12 can help to regulate your circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycle, improving sleep quality.

8) Heart health

B12 helps regulate homocysteine levels, improving cardiac function.

9) Energy levels

A healthy balance of all minerals and vitamins helps to maintain energy levels. B12 is essential for cellular energy production and also plays a significant part in the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose, your body’s go-to energy source. It also helps to convert fatty acids into energy. 

10) Encourages healthy skin, hair and nails

Cobalamin has an affinity for the skin. If there are insufficient levels (or excessive ones), it can lead to dermatological changes. If you have a deficiency of B12, you might experience changes to your nails and hair, skin hyperpigmentation, and oral symptoms and conditions such as glossitis, recurring mouth ulcers and canker sores.

Other skin conditions associated with vitamin B12 irregularity include vitiligo, atopic dermatitis and acne rosacea.

Causes of vitamin B12 insufficiency and deficiency

• Poor gut health and conditions such as celiac, Crohn’s disease or IBS. Conditions that slow the movement of food through the digestive tract (e.g. diabetes, scleroderma or diverticulitis) can cause an unhealthy balance of gut bacteria to overgrow in the upper part of the small intestine. Vitamin B12 is very valuable to these bacteria which keep it for themselves, while you become depleted. Other conditions with malabsorption such as MS or HIV can also be a cause.

• If you are vegetarian or vegan, you are at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency because only animal-based foods naturally contain it. You can get B12 into your diet by taking a supplement. You can also eat nutritional yeast and other foods fortified with vitamin B12. If you are vegetarian, eggs and dairy products also contain it.

• If you have had bariatric surgery, this interferes with your absorption of B12.

• If you are elderly, you have a higher risk as your stomach acid depletes with age, which affects digestion and absorption of nutrients, including vitamin B12.

• The use of drugs for heartburn and stomach ulcers as well as metformin, antibiotics and anti-seizure medications.

• If you are a smoker, suffer from pernicious anaemia or excessively drink alcohol, it will affect B12 absorption.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency 

These can be hard to spot as some of them are very common and can be associated with other ailments. They can include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, legs or feet.
  • Memory loss or difficulty thinking and concentrating.
  • Pernicious anaemia
  • Weakness, muscle aches, joint and back pain.
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Moodiness, depression, anxiety.
  • Digestive problems
  • Poor oral health, including a swollen inflamed tongue, recurring ulcers, and bleeding gums.
  • Palpitations
  • Poor appetite

Gut health is essential for adequate B12 levels

According to current research, particular microbial strains in the gut produce cobalamin along with other B vitamins. You can find a list of the predicted specific gut bacteria here.

Some animals, e.g. cows and fish, are capable of producing and absorbing enough B12 via gut bacteria production that they need little or none added to their diet. But, while more studies are required in order to determine this fully, some researchers currently feel that homegrown human cobalamin is produced in such small amounts and is so valuable to the gut microbes that it is unlikely to impact our vitamin B12 levels significantly.

Added to which, most of the cobalamin is produced in the colon where no receptors absorb it (these are found in the small intestine).

As previously mentioned, vitamin B12 helps to maintain your gut mucosa and nourishes gut microbiota, aiding digestion. It looks like any produced in the gut is used to enhance microbial activity. 

By getting enough vitamin B12, either through food or supplementing, a healthy person can maintain adequate levels which improve gut bacteria and overall digestive function. In response, good gut health will increase your ability to absorb B12, allowing you to reap all the other health benefits. 

Without a healthy digestive system, malabsorption of vitamin B12 occurs, which negatively affects your gut, further impeding your B12 absorption – a vicious cycle. Even minor gut inflammation can cause problems, so you can see why you must get your gut health in order

By enhancing gut health, vitamin B12 aids overall immunity. It also helps to improve inflammation not just in your gut but also your body, helping to ward off chronic illness and disease. 

Aside from eating a diverse, natural, whole-food diet rich in nutrients and regularly including pre and probiotic foods in your diet, you might want to consider taking some probiotics.

Progurt supply an entire range of supplements aimed at providing the right environment for optimal gut health.

Supplementation of vitamin B12

If you suspect your vitamin B12 levels are low, speak to your GP or therapist of choice about getting them tested. 

If you are vegan/vegetarian, an older adult or are vulnerable to B12 insufficiency or deficiency for any other reason, you can take a supplement. If you have a chronic condition that requires medication, speak to your doctor before taking any supplements.

The natural form of vitamin B12, known as methylcobalamin, is the best one to choose as research shows that it stays in your system for longer. When taking a supplement as opposed to injections (customarily administered to treat deficiency), sublingual (under the tongue) drops, sprays or tablets are the most effective as they are absorbed rapidly and directly into the bloodstream. 

B12 food sources

Good sources include seafood and fish, especially clams, oysters, muscles, crab, crayfish, shrimps, lobster, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines.

Animal liver, kidneys and meat – particularly beef and chicken breast – are also adequate sources, and so too are eggs, dairy products, and fortified foods, including plant milks and nutritional yeast.

Pulling it all together

Cobalamin or vitamin B12 is essential for a multitude of physiological functions, including the formation of red blood cells. It helps to produce the myelin sheath, which forms around the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, allowing electrical impulses to transmit quickly and effectively along the nerve cells. Vitamin B12 also helps with hormonal, DNA and RNA synthesis. 

We have listed ten significant health benefits in this article, but there are many more. 

Gut health plays a principal role when it comes to your ability to absorb B12, added to which, vitamin B12 helps to maintain your gut mucosa and nourishes gut microbiota, aiding digestion. Inadequate levels of the vitamin can lead to gut inflammation and conditions like leaky gut or irritable bowel disease.

Even minor inflammation can cause malabsorption of not just vitamin B12 but other vital nutrients as well. So, it’s crucial to keep your digestive system healthy.

If you want to enhance your B12 absorption, focus on maintaining a healthy gut! Eating a varied, natural, whole-food diet encourages a diverse range of gut bacteria. Consume plenty of vegetables and fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats to provide gut feeding nutrients and plenty of fibre.

Include pre and probiotic foods in your diet daily. If you want to take probiotics or any other gut supplements, Progurt has an entire range aimed at providing the right environment for optimal gut health, including prebiotics.

Aside from eating a balanced diet, you can include foods rich in vitamin B12, or even take a supplement – particularly if you are vegan, vegetarian, an older or elderly adult or anyone with an increased risk of deficiency.

If you are displaying any deficiency symptoms or are worried your levels are low, ask your doctor to test your blood levels of vitamin B12. If you have a chronic condition requiring medication, speak to your GP before taking any supplements.

Written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.