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Ester Marsh column: What does vitamin B12 do?

I received so many responses about the vitamin D column (thank you!), that I needed to answer one more important question about vitamin D. You do not get vitamin D sitting in the sun in your house behind the glass or driving in the car with windows closed. It feels good, but the UV rays cannot get through glass.

In that same token, I am jumping into vitamin B12 since many of you asked me about it. As you know, I am not a doctor or licensed nutritionist. I jokingly call myself Ester Marsh Web MD at times but my research is extensive and I cross-reference all the findings to come up with an explanation to certain subjects which is understandable to most. If you have any concerns or you want to get your levels tested, see your primary physician.

So what is B12? Wikipedia says B12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that has a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system via the synthesis of myelin and the formation of red blood cells. The B12 vitamin is one of eight B vitamins.

In other words, it helps your brain and nervous system and helps the process of making and sending your red blood cells through the body.

Many people get lower B12 levels as they age, as do people who are on certain medications, people who do not eat any animal products or have other illnesses which decrease levels of B12.

So what are the symptoms?

Being fatigued is one of the first signs, the main reason is because our bodies rely on B12 to make the red blood cells. They in return carry our oxygen to all the organs. Feeling weak, sluggish can be another symptom. A pale skin, smooth red tongue can be other symptoms. Nerve issues such as tingling or numbness even muscle weakness can be a cause of low B12. It also can affect your eyes if your vision is getting worse and, as many other imbalances in your body, it can affect your mood and behavior.

These are just some of the different signs and I recommend to be diagnosed by a doctor because many of these symptoms can be “hiding” other medical issues.

So what are normal levels? Between 400-900 NG/L (nanograms per liter). One hundred and fifty-400 NG/L is borderline B12 deficiency and less than 150 NG/L is B12 deficient. Over 900 is actually too high and can have negative affects on your body. The older you get, the harder it is to absorb B12 though foods. Meats, seafood, dairy and eggs carry B-12 vitamin. If you are vegan or vegetarian you need to make sure you get your B12 through B12 fortified grains or supplements.

When you are low, your doctor might prescribe B12 shots to get your levels up.

If your body is unable to absorb B12, called pernicious anemia, shots are most likely your course of action to get your B12 vitamins.

Good health starts with a well-balanced diet and exercise, but that alone isn’t always enough. I know I take additional vitamins and minerals to make sure I get the proper amount each day. And if you are experiencing symptoms of low B12, visit your doctor ask him or her if your levels are where they need to be. Your physician can send you for a blood test and guide you afterwards if your levels are low. I do believe I will be adding B12 to my morning vitamin intake.

Ester Marsh ACSM Cpt, health and fitness director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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