What is Vitamin B12 and why should I get the shot?

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble B vitamin that is necessary for practically every biochemical pathway in the body. Unfortunately, sources of vitamin B12 are limited.  B12 is necessary for proper brain and nervous system activity, energy production, blood formation, cell and homocysteine metabolism, as well as DNA fatty acid synthesis.

Higher levels of B12 can protect against unwanted brain changes that occur with aging and have been shown to be associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia and alzheimer's disease.  B12 deficiency can result in memory loss, cognitive decline, mood disorder, constipation, diarrhea, nerve damage, numbness, sore tongue, insomnia, fatigue, abdominal pain, easy bruising, anemia, migraine headaches, and menstrual irregularities.

Our capacity to absorb vitamin B12 from food and oral supplementation requires a well functioning gastrointestinal (GI) tract which included the stomach, pancreas, small intestine, intrinsic factor, and enzymes.  Inflammation of the GI tract may affect our capacity to properly absorb vitamin B12.  GI diseases, food allergies, age, high stress, excessive alcohol, and drug/medication use, can all cause a decrease in GI tract function and therefore a decreased capacity to absorb vitamin B12.

Most sources of vitamin B12 come from beef, poultry, cheese, milk, fish, eggs, and fortified processed foods.  Vegetarians and vegans face a major challenge in not becoming vitamin B12 deficient.  Non-animal sources of vitamin B12 include algeas and fermented foods.

For more information on vitamin B12 and links to supportive studies, please visit the Linus Pauling Institute http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-B12.