Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for the brain, and for neurological and other functions of the body. It is involved in many of the metabolic processes that occur within our bodies.
According to some studies, it is suggested that 2 out of 5 people are deficient in Vitamin B12. That's almost 1 in every 2 people! These studies involved a mixed group of people, not just vegetarians and vegans, but meat eaters as well.
The only way to be certain if your B12 levels are optimal is to have them tested. You can take a serum B12 test and/or an MMA (methylmalonic acid) test. An MMA test is very important because although serum levels may seem to be at "ideal" levels, the serum test doesn't show how B12 is being metabolized.
Worse, your doctor may not know what the optimum levels are... they may be basing it on old information.
Getting B12 Into Your System
B12 From Microbes On Unwashed Veggies
Some people feel that unwashed veggies straight from the garden, when consumed, will keep their B12 at acceptable levels. The theory is that the microbes that exist on the unwashed veggies contain the necessary B12, and if they remain unwashed, we will assimilate the B12. Others suggest that there isn't sufficient evidence to support this, and a lot of people are forced (or decide to) get their vegetables from the grocery store anyways.
If you like the "microbes idea", the best thing to probably do is test your levels, and if you are low, try the "unwashed veggies" theory, then test again after a certain period of time to see where you are at.
B12 From Algae And Spirulina
Another suggestion is that algae and spirulina have B12 and will raise your B12 levels to optimum levels. This has some merit because serum levels have been shown to have raised after consuming algaes. However, experts say that the real test is the MMA test, showing how much B12 is being metabolized, and in the case of algaes, MMA tests often still show a deficiency. The suggestion is that spirulina has "B12 like compounds" that do not work the same way real B12 does in the body. Hence the optimal serum levels, but the deficient metabolization.
It has been suggested that permanent neurological damage can occur from long term low levels of B12, so if you have been relying on the microbes and/or the algae, you may want to get tested to be sure your levels are where you think they are.
B12 From Nutritional Yeast
It's true that nutritional yeast is a good source of B vitamins, plus it is usually fortified with B12 (meaning B12 is added to it). Unfortunately it is usually fortified with the inferior type cyanocobalamin rather than the superior type methylcobalamin. Also, when someone is deficient in B12, as mentioned in the following absorption section, ingesting B12 from supplements or food takes into account the "gastric intrinsic factor" (defined ahead).
This requires a significant amount of B12 to be ingested (whilst someone is deficient) for any to be absorbed.. and a good majority will be wasted. Bringing the B12 through the intestinal wall into the blood stream is not a simple task for the body when there is an existing deficiency and the intrinsic factor is low.
Eating Meat For B12
Organ meats and other meat products may raise Vitamin B12 levels but of course not everyone wants to consume meat products because of perhaps health and/or ethical reasons. Those that can look past the ethical reasons may have a hard time finding a source of meat that is clean and void of steroids and chemicals. Also, the sources of meat that are commonly available, sadly, are not safe to consume raw. Cooked meat, it has been suggested, is harder to assimilate and lacks digestive enzymes.
We also can't forget the studies that have taken place, with some meat eaters in the test pool, that resulted in almost half being deficient in B12.
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The multi-step process for Vitamin B12 absorption may result in a waste in some of the vitamin. In the stomach, B12 binds with a glycoprotein near the beginning of the B12 absorption stages. At this time another glycoprotein, called 'gastric intrinsic factor' or simply 'intrinsic factor' is being produced. These are then sent to the small intestine with all your food and then the B12 complex binds with the intrinsic factor to be brought across the intestinal lining then in to your blood stream.
Increasing the amount of Vitamin B12 can generally help achieve more absorption. However, when levels are low, less 'intrinsic factor' is produced, again, resulting in less absorption. So, as it seems, taking B12 orally, at least initially, doesn't seem like the ideal option.
B12 Into The Bloodstream
Taking B12 into the bloodstream gives you the option to avoid the whole intrinsic factor process completely.
A common route people take to get B12 into their system is to supplement. One of the cheapest routes for B12 supplementation is by taking it sublingually in the form of a lozenge or other small pill.
B12 taken sublingually (placed under the tongue), is absorbed through the membranes in your mouth, an indirect route into the bloodstream. This only allows for some absorption, and there are often additives in the lozenges that contribute to taste. Other supplement options are superior in terms of absorption and purity.
If you decide to take sublingual B12, supplements that contain methylcobalamin are the best choices over supplements that contain cyanocobalamin.
B12 shots are popular for people that can afford the shots and that do not have a problem with needles. B12 shots raise B12 levels effectively and they do so quickly. Some people find this approach unnatural or simply don't want to go this route, which brings to light B12 patches.
B12 patches are small patches that you put behind your ear that allow your body to absorb the B12 transdermally. The benefits of the patch are that they are really inexpensive compared to shots and you get better absorption than you would if you just used the sublingual tablets.
It can also raise your levels faster than the tablets because you're absorbing the nutrients into your skin, then blood, directly. Patches are a great way to get higher dosages of B12 without the hassle of pills, shots or spending large amounts of money.
It's suggested that B12 shots and the patch are most effective overall.