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What Alzheimer’s Caregivers Should Know about Vitamin B12

If you or a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is over the age of 50, you have a high likeliness of having a B12 deficiency.  Getting enough B12 is important to overall health, particularly for those with AD.  In fact, a recent Harvard Health publication reports that The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey says approximately 3.2% of older adults have very low B12 levels and as many as 20% are borderline deficient in B12.  Prevention Magazine reports as many as 4 out of every 100 women ages 40 to 59 may be vitamin B12 deficient, and many others are borderline.

What’s so important about B12?  According to a New England Journal of Medicine case report, one elderly man experienced shortness of breath, difficulty walking and severe joint pain along with “pins and needles” sensation in his hands, all from a deficiency of vitamin B12.  In the worse cases of B12 deficiency, severe depression, delusions, memory loss, incontinence and loss of sensory perception can occur, says Harvard Health.

Function of B12 in the Body

B12 is required in sufficient levels in the human body to build red blood cells, nerves and DNA.  B12 cannot be manufactured in the body and must be obtained from the diet.  The average adult needs 2.4 micrograms of B12 per day from food or supplements.

Causes of B12 Deficiency

Some people can’t absorb B12 properly because of a condition called “Pernicious anemia.” They lack a substance called intrinsic factor produced by the lining of the stomach and required for normal absorption of B12.  Other conditions that may adversely affect B12 absorption include immune system disorders (like Grave’s disease or lupus), heavy alcohol intake, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial or parasitic growth, or thinning of the lining of the stomach.  The long-term use of acid-reducing drugs can also have an impact on adequate B12 absorption, because gastric (stomach) acid is required to properly break down and absorb vitamin B12.

Of course, lack of B12 in the diet can also lead to a deficiency of this essential vitamin.  Vegan diets, lacking in animal products, are commonly known for causing B12 deficiency.  Babies born to mothers who are vegans may also suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency.  in fact, weight loss surgery (involving gastric revision) and vegan diets are 2 of the most common causes of vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

B12 deficiency can start slow and develop over a long period, or it can progress rapidly.  Common signs and symptoms of inadequate B12 include:

-Strange sensations such as numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
-Pins and needles sensation
-Balance problems
-Trouble walking (staggering)
-Anemia (low blood iron levels)
-Swelling and inflammation of the tongue
-Jaundice (yellowed skin)
-Memory loss
-Impaired cognition
-Paranoia
-Hallucinations
-Muscle weakness
-Severe fatigue

Find out more about why B12 is important for Alzheimer’s prevention by signing up for our 25-lesson course at AlzU.org by ClICKING HERE

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