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The B12 Factor

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do you feel tired all the time or frequently suffer from headaches? You may need to check your vitamin B12 levels. Dev Goswami tells you more why this vitamin is important and how to maintain healthy levels

Nutrients are a necessary part of your diet because they help to keep your body healthy. From proteins and minerals to a variety of vitamins, your body requires a healthy dose of these nutrients on a daily basis. And among them, vitamin B12 deficiencies are the primary indication that you need to maintain a balanced diet. Lack of B12 can lead to immediate lethargy, headaches, breathlessness and a loss of appetite, while in the long run, it can result in more serious things including aggravating the symptoms of dementia, and causing depression, walking problems and a loss of your sense of touch. That got your attention, didn’t it? We don’t usually take deficiencies seriously, but you should! Especially when it’s something as common as the B12 deficiency. A Pune-based study found that 75% of the people involved in the study were deficient in vitamin B12! The sample size was miniscule — 204 men and women between 27 to 55-years-old — but it does show the significance of the vitamin.

What causes it?
The obvious answer is an unbalanced diet,  but it’s only one of the factors that leads to a deficiency of B12. You can suffer from this condition even if you follow a healthy diet, simply because your body doesn’t absorb this vital vitamin. Shilpa Mittal, a nutritionist and founder of Shilpsnutrilife, tells us, “Your body needs a certain stomach acid for vitamin B12 to detach itself from the proteins found in your food. If your stomach doesn’t produce enough of this acid, it can affect the absorption of vitamin B12.”

This can occur because of chronic inflammation of your stomach lining, or conditions such as gastritis, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Bacterial growth or a parasite infection can also hamper the production of this stomach acid. Other factors that can cause a deficiency of vitamin B12 include weight loss surgeries, anaemia and the excessive consumption of alcohol.

The diet factor
Your diet plays an important role in maintaining your nutrient levels, but this isn’t just limited to eating foods that are rich in vitamin B12 (see box). You also need to eat calcium-rich food, that is crucial to absorb B12. Milk and dairy products can play a vital role in combating your vitamin B12 deficiency. Shilpa also adds, “Remember that vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin, and so, your body doesn’t store it. This means that simply eating B12-rich food a few times during the week will not help — you need to ensure that you consume it every day.”

What to do?
The first step is to follow a healthy diet, which will go a long way in preventing this condition. However, if you’re already B12 deficient, your next course of action should depend on the exact reason behind the deficiency. For example, if the problem is that your body is unable to absorb B12, you may need supplementation in the form of injections. A dietary cause on the other hand, can be solved quite easily with a diet plan, for which you can consult either a doctor or a nutritionist.

Include these in your diet
Shilpa tells us about food items that are rich in B12 and so, should be part of your daily diet.

  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, curd and paneer.
  • Eggs.
  • Shrimp.
  • Crab.
  • Shellfish.
  • Mackerel.
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