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By: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet

With the rates of chronic disease – including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s – on the rise, most of us are seeking natural ways to protect our health into our golden years.

And while eating a whole foods diet that’s free of processed junk and rich in a wide variety of nutrients is a smart safeguard, there’s one nutrient that is of particular importance when it comes to disease prevention and life-long vitality:

Vitamin B12.

The Common Nutrient with Extraordinary Benefits

Let’s talk about the importance of Vitamin B12. You might be surprised to learn that Vitamin B12 has been shown to possess a wide array of anti-aging and disease-fighting benefits. This common nutrient can reduce your risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease (as well as dementia, cognitive decline and memory loss)
  • Depression and other forms of mental illness.

And that’s not all. It can also help to prevent infertility, learning and developmental disorders in children, as well as autoimmune and neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS).
How could one nutrient benefit such a wide number of health concerns?

The Critical Importance of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the largest and most chemically complex vitamin. This complexity is what allows it to serve so many health-promoting, disease-fighting functions in the body.

Take a look:

  • HEART HEALTH: The results of more than 80 studies show that even moderately elevated levels of the amino acid, homocysteine, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other studies show that this substance can impair the brain and memory and may also be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But vitamin B12 produces a critical enzyme, called methionine synthase which converts dangerous homocysteine into harmless and beneficial compounds.
  • CELLULAR HEALTH: Vitamin B12 is also required for the biological process called methylation, which is vital for creating healthy cells and preventing damage to DNA. These are two key factors for preventing cancer.
  • BRAIN & NERVOUS SYSTEM HEALTH: Vitamin B12 is involved in manufacturing special protective insulation that surrounds nerve cells, called the myelin sheath. Myelin not only helps to protect the nerves, but it also helps to ensure that nerve impulses are conducted efficiently.
  • DEPRESSION: Vitamin B12 is required for the synthesis of SAMe –  a substance that acts as a precursor to the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin. A recent study of 3,884 elderly men and women with depression found that those with vitamin B12 deficiency were almost 70% more likely to experience depression than those with normal levels.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the importance of vitamin B12 and what it does for human health.

But unfortunately, most of us just aren’t getting enough.

Are You Deficient in Vitamin B12?

According to the Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study, as many as 40% of people ages 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels below the “normal” range.

What’s more, many people with “normal” levels of vitamin B12 (between 200 pg/mL and 350 pg/mL) experience symptoms of deficiency. This suggests that what is considered “normal” is too low.

The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are often shrugged off as the effects of “aging.” These can include: muscle weakness, fatigue, shakiness, unsteady gait, incontinence, low blood pressure, depression and poor memory.

The good news is that it’s easy and inexpensive to test your levels of vitamin B12 (DirectLabs.com offers a test for $60). If you discover that you are deficient in this critical nutrient, you should work with a holistic practitioner to identify the underlying causes of your deficiency. These can include:

  • Low Stomach Acid
  • Digestive illnesses, including intestinal dysbiosis, leaky gut, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac or IBS
  • Pernicious Anemia
  • Medications (especially PPIs and other acid-suppressing drugs, as well as diabetes drugs like metaformin)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet. Because B12 is only present in animal foods, it is estimated that 50% of long-term vegetarians and 80% of vegans are deficient.

If you find that you are deficient, here are the best sources of vitamin B12 to include in your diet each day:

Salmon is a great source of Vitamin B12.

  • Clams (84 mcg in 3 oz serving)
  • Liver (83 micrograms in a 3.5-ounce serving)
  • Mussels (20.4 mcg in 3 oz.)
  • Crab (8.8 mcg in 3 oz. serving)
  • Wild Salmon (2.4 mcg in 3 oz. serving)
  • Beef (2.1 mcg in 3 oz serving)

Considering the implications for your health and longevity, the importance of Vitamin B12 is critical. The good news is that it is easy, inexpensive – and delicious – to ensure that you are getting enough.

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Ed. Note:

Kelley Herring is the Founder and Editor of Healing Gourmet  – the leading provider of organic, sustainable recipes and meal plans for health and weight loss. Be sure to grab Healing Gourmet’s free books – Eating Clean & Saving Green: Your Guide to Organic Foods on a Budget (includes 100+ foods at the best prices) and Eat Your Way Into Shape: Flip Your Body’s Fat Blasting Switch and Melt 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks (includes a delicious 7 day meal plan!). Claim your free copies here…

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REFERNECES

1.    New York Times. It Could Be Old Age, or It Could Be Low B12. By JANE E. BRODY. Published: November 28, 2011 
2.    Carmel R. Cobalamin (Vitamin B-12). In: Shils ME, Shike M, Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006:482-497.
3.    Shane B. Folic acid, vitamin B-12, and vitamin B-6. In: Stipanuk M, ed. Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.; 2000:483-518.
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20.    Eussen SJ, de Groot LC, Joosten LW, et al. Effect of oral vitamin B-12 with or without folic acid on cognitive function in older people with mild vitamin B-12 deficiency: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(2):361-370.  
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