What do all of the following conditions have in common? Multiple Sclerosis, learning disabilities, tremors, dementias, vit-b12depression, numbness or pain in the feet, infertility, balance problems, fatigue, heart disease, failure to thrive and delayed development in children, and vitiligo. The answer is they can all be caused by a Vitamin B12 deficiency. While there are several better known epidemics strangling the vibrancy of our population, this one deserves at least as much attention. The consequences of a B12 deficiency can ruin lives physically and financially. Due to the fact that so many people wind up disabled due to this issue, it is contributing significantly to the burden on our health care system.

Vitamin B12 particularly affects the nervous system. It plays a crucial role in myelin formation. That is the fatty coating which insulates the nerves. If the myelin breaks down the electrical impulses can become affected and a short circuiting could take place. The symptoms can vary widely with people but they can mimic Multiple Sclerosis in some cases. MS and Vitamin B12 deficiency have similarities and differences. With B12 deficiency the myelin sheath damage can be reversed if caught early enough. With MS that has not been shown to be the case. However, a B12 deficiency may exacerbate the progression of MS. Many people are being misdiagnosed with MS when, in fact, they are Vitamin B12 deficient.

Why aren’t patients with B12 deficiencies being diagnosed correctly? First, to find it you have to look for it. Doctor’s training focuses on finding and treating diseases, not vitamin deficiencies. There is also a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. MS drugs can run $2,000-$4,000 per month. Vitamin B12 might cost $30 per month. The CEO of the National MS Society makes almost $500,000 per year at this drug company sponsored position. They aren’t paying her that much to promote green tea. Secondly, even if the B12 deficiency is looked for, a correct interpretation of the results needs to be made. The lab normal of B12 levels are ridiculously broad and usually worthless if that is the only criteria looked at.

Why do so many people suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency? There are several reasons, but for starters it isn’t in food any more. Meat used to be considered a good source. In the early 1960’s the amount of B12 in beef was substantial. In the early 1990’s that same study was repeated and there was hardly any B12 in the beef samples. What happened? One possible explanation is the enormous amount of antibiotics given beef cattle which depletes B12. Other possibilities for deficiency include gastro-intestinal issues which prevents the absorption of B12. We know these problems are rampant because medicines for indigestion are some of the biggest sellers. Antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H2 blockers directly interfere with B12 uptake. So do many other medicines, such as diabetes drugs, birth control pills, anti-depressants, etc. Excessive alcohol consumption is another cause of low B12 as is the anaesthesia nitrous oxide.

I’m glad to see that Vitamin D levels are now being routinely tested by doctors, especially rheumatologists. B12 testing should also be routinely tested, especially on people over 60 years of age. The normal should also be re-defined to reflect what is necessary for optimal functioning. The low normal of 200pg/ml is too low since deficiencies appear in cerebral spinal fluid below 550pg/ml. Other valuable lab tests include methylmalonic acid and homocysteine (Hcy). High HCY is a cardiovascular disease risk factor, and B12 is one of the things that can cause it to be elevated.

If levels of B12 are low, injections may be needed to get levels up quickly. There are oral sources as well (methylcobalamin is best). It’s time to give this problem the attention it deserves. Besides the other health consequences, falls are the number one cause of death with senior citizens. How many of these falls could have been prevented with the proper diagnosis and treatment with Vitamin B12? This negligence needs to stop.