Do you find yourself feeling drained and dragging through your days? Or do you sometimes feel like your brain is on the fritz? If so you may be suffering from low levels of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause both fatigue and brain fog.
There are a number of reasons your levels might be bottoming out, but first let’s take a look at the role this vital vitamin plays in your health.
Multitasking B12 plays a vital role in your health
As you might have guessed, B12 is essential for keeping your energy levels topped up. Also known as cobalamin, B12 is one of eight B vitamins, and one of the three B’s (along with B6 and B9) that plays a critical role in the production of oxygen- and nutrient-carrying red blood cells.
But that’s far from B12’s only job. In fact, B12 is involved in the metabolism of every single cell in your body.
Production of melatonin—the so-called “sleep hormone” which is crucial for rest, recovery and rejuvenation—depends on this vital vitamin too. And your body’s nerve network relies on B12 to produce myelin, the insulation that covers your nerves and helps transmit nerve signals.
As part of the B-vitamin team, B12 helps convert the food you eat into the energy that fuels every cell in your body. And the vital vitamin supports your heart health too by reigning in inflammatory homocysteine levels, which are linked to heart disease.
This essential vitamin even plays a role in the basic building blocks of life itself, DNA and RNA.
Low B12 levels can lead to…
- that “tired all the time” feeling
- feeling fuzzy and having trouble concentrating
- memory issues
- weak muscles
- trouble sleeping
In other words, hardworking B12 is critical to your health and wellbeing. So let’s take a look at why your levels might have bottomed out, and what you can do about it.
Three hidden causes of B12 deficiency & fatigue
There are a few fairly well known causes of B12 deficiency that you may have heard of, and most doctors know to look for. For example, eating an all vegan or vegetarian diet can cause your levels to drop because fruits, vegetables and grains aren’t a good source of the vitamin. And Crohn’s disease, weight-loss surgery, aging and certain bacterial infections can make it more difficult for your body to absorb B12.
But there are three more common causes of B12 deficiency that most doctors unfortunately miss.
1. Low Stomach Acid:
It turns out low stomach acid can keep your body from absorbing the B12 it needs. You see your body produces a glycoprotein called intrinsic factor (IF) that binds to B12 in the stomach helping it to survive its trip through your stomach into your small intestine.
Once there the IF dissolves leaving the B12 available to eventually be taken up and used by your cells. So, in other words, having enough IF on board is critical for absorbing enough B12.
But here’s the thing. If your stomach acid is too low—because of say a vegan/vegetarian diet, stress, aging or heartburn drugs—your body isn’t able to produce enough IF, and this leads to vitamin-B levels dropping.
To support healthy stomach acid levels try taking a little apple cider vinegar before each meal.
Believe it or not your DNA could be standing in the way of you keeping your B12 levels topped up.
Genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNiPs, are tiny genetic deviations in your DNA that can cause your body to not produce enough of certain key enzymes that are necessary to absorb some vitamins.
Researchers have found evidence that the SNiP FUT-2 gene could play a major role in vitamin B12 deficiency. But the good news is that even if you have testing done and find out you’re positive for a SNiP, you’re not doomed to a permanent vitamin deficiency.
You’ll just need to take some extra precautions to make sure you’re getting plenty of B12 in your daily diet. (And considering which delicious foods are high in the vitamin, that shouldn’t be a difficult task at all. More on those foods in a few moments.)
Earlier I briefly mentioned that heartburn drugs can play a role in vitamin B deficiency. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers (drugs such as omeprazole and ranitidine) can drive your stomach acid down to basement low levels making it difficult for your body to absorb the B12 it needs.
But heartburn drugs aren’t the only meds that could be contributing to low B12, brain fog and fatigue.
Other vitamin-mugging drugs to be aware of include:
- the diabetes drug metformin,
- the chemotherapy drug methotrexate,
- the gout drug colchicine,
- and some cholesterol-lowering drugs such as cholestyramine.
If you happen to be on any of these drugs make an appointment to see your doctor to get your B12 levels checked out.
Testing to determine if you’re low on vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 levels are typically tested using a simple blood test. An obvious deficiency is usually defined as levels below 150 to 200 pg/mL, depending on which lab your doctor uses.
But the trouble with sticking to this definition of deficiency is that it doesn’t reach the “functional range.” The functional range is the amount of the vitamin that’s needed to support your optimal health, not just prevent disease.
A functional medicine doc will typically aim for a much higher range of at least 800 to 1000 pg/mL. Dropping below that level means your B12 level is insufficient to help you reach your best health and you can start to feel that fatigue and brain fog we’re trying so hard to avoid.
Your doc can also do a test for methylmalonc acid (MMA) levels. When you’re low in B12 your body starts to pump out more MMA. And this can happen even when your B12 blood test says your levels are “normal.”
And finally genetic testing can determine if you have any SNiPs that could be standing in the way of you getting enough B12.
Boost your B12 levels naturally with diet
The best way to raise your B12 levels is through diet. And the Paleo diet, which is full of B12-rich animal proteins, is the perfect base for preventing and correcting B12 deficiency.
Boost your own B12 levels by eating more of the following foods…
- organ meats,
- cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines,
- beef and wild game meats,
- and pasture-raised eggs.
Shoot for eating one to four 3-ounce servings of these B12-rich foods every single day.
Weighing the B12 shots option
If your energy levels have seriously tanked and your thinking is a muddled mess you might want to restore your lagging B12 levels more quickly than through diet alone. In that case, vitamin B12 shots can be a great choice.
The injections are typically given in your shoulder and since the injection bypasses your digestive tract there’s much more B12 available for your cells to absorb. Which means you can quickly, and dramatically, raise your levels driving off brain fog and fatigue.
But before getting a B12 injection be sure to ask your doctor what form of the vitamin he uses. Most doctors use an older form that isn’t found in nature called cyanocobalamin. This form can raise your levels too, but not always as dramatically, especially if you have digestive issues or SNiPs.
The form you want instead is methylcobalamin, which is the “active” form of B12 that your body doesn’t have to convert.
If you need to restore your energy levels quickly a series of B12 shots can give you the boost your need. But don’t forget, the best approach to maintaining sufficient B12 levels is still through your diet.
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