I think the most common complaints I hear as a physician, from men and women alike are, “I’m tired, I forget things, I’m cranky, I don’t have any energy to get through my day, I’m depressed”. Our modern, fast-paced lives can cause us to be chronically tired, forgetful, anxious, or feeling down. You rely more and more on popular over-caffeinated energy drinks, sodas, and coffee, to not only get you through your busy day but give you a temporary mood lift. However, you might actually have a vitamin B deficiency.
First, let’s talk about the ways in which different factors in your life might be contributing to a depletion of B vitamins:
Stress: Many of my patients are burning the candle at both ends working long hours, maintaining family life duties juggling kids schedules and the financial pressures of managing a home. They lack sleep, get very little exercise and go through their daily routine exhausted. Chronic stress of this nature can really burn out B vitamin stores and impair your nervous system.
Bad Diets: Along with fast paced lives, many of my patients depend on take-outs and fast-foods. These foods tend to be high in carbohydrates which deplete B vitamins. They don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables that provide good sources of B vitamins. Many people have stopped eating meat, especially red meat, which is one of the best, most absorbable sources of B12 that exists.
Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol depletes the B1 vitamin thiamine, a deficiency that can be very detrimental to your nervous system and mental processes. Too much alcohol over a prolonged period can leave you mentally foggy, unable to concentrate, with word finding difficulty and a poor memory.
Aging: Just simply getting older causes us to develop Vitamin B12 deficiencies because our ability to absorb it from our food lessens with age. In fact, men over 40 are at higher risk for developing B12 deficiencies and Alzheimer-like dementia as a result. This condition is reversible with B12 supplementation.
Get Adequate B Vitamins
I’d like to share with you the importance of adequate levels of B Vitamins in your diet. There are 12 B Vitamins, all with their specific role in human health, but the most common deficiencies occur in B1, B2, B9 and B12. The best way to get all B Vitamins is from your food as the body can break down natural sources better. However, supplementing with a good B-Complex Vitamin formula can be added insurance in maintaining proper levels.
B Vitamins are water soluble and are washed out of the body through excretion of urine so toxic levels are rare. However, B12 is the only B vitamin that stores itself in your liver, kidneys, and other tissues, so inadequate intake might not show up until its completely depleted. A simple blood test at your physician’s office can show if you are deficient in B12.
Below is a brief outline of what these 4 particular B vitamins do; in what foods they can be found, and the symptoms associated with the deficiencies.
Vitamin B1–Thiamine: Maintains energy, muscles, nerve functions, mental focus. Good food sources include sunflower seeds, tuna, cooked black beans, green peas. Deficiencies are rare unless you have a high alcohol intake. Symptoms are loss of appetite, weakness/tenderness of muscles, numbness and tingling, “pins and needles” sensations in feet.
Vitamin B2-Riboflavin: Supports energy at cellular level. Along with B6 and B9 (folic acid) maintains normal homocysteine levels crucial for heart health and prevention of heart attack. This is especially important for men as they are at higher risk for heart disease. Good food sources include calves liver, crimini mushrooms, venison and yogurt. Those most prone to deficiencies are alcoholics, lactose intolerant individuals, and women who use oral contraceptives. Deficiency symptoms are light sensitivity, tearing, burning of the eyes, skin cracks at sides of mouth, peeling of skin around the nose, and genital lesions.
Vitamin B9-Folic acid: Crucial for pregnant women to prevent severe neural tube birth defects in infants. Maintains normal homocysteine blood levels and helps prevent arteriosclerosis. Since folic acid fortification regulations of commercial foods, stroke and heart attack rates have decreased by 15%. Good sources of B9 folic acid include leafy green vegetables (fresh is best as heat destroys folic acid), liver, lentils, legumes, brown rice, poultry, pork. Deficiency symptoms include severe anemia, elevated homocysteine levels, gastric upset, impaired brain and nerve functions.
Vitamin B12-Cyanocobalamin: Maintains proper red blood cell formation and the integrity of nerve tissue and neurological function. Good sources of B12 are red meat, fish and dairy products. Though B12 deficiencies can occur in both women and men, older men seem particularly vulnerable to it. Deficiency symptoms include anemia, tingling or numbness of the toes and fingers, confusion, forgetfulness, Alzheimer-like dementia, muscle weakness, susceptibility to infections, and low sperm counts.
To ensure that you don’t develop B vitamin deficiencies, you need to lessen stress levels by adding more exercise and enjoyable activities to your life along with adopting healthier sleep habits. Aging is inevitable, but our decreased capacity to absorb Vitamin B12 as we grow older is easily remedied. Supplementation of B12 via pills, or even injections by your physician, can help us stay mentally sharp and energetic. Including good food sources of B vitamins in your diet and limiting consumption of alcohol will also help you prevent deficiencies and the diseases they can cause.