Vitamin B12 – New Uses
The Vitamin B12 Shot – Signs You Might Need One
By Rahim Habib ND, Naturopathic Doctor
Most doctors think about testing your vitamin B12 levels if you have neurological symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or burning sensations in your arms or legs, weakness, or loss of balance. They may also think of testing it if you have a type of anemia showing large red blood cells on your routine tests.
However, in the past decades, newer research has shown that many other symptoms or illnesses have been associated with low levels of this crucial vitamin.
Newer Signs of Low Vitamin B12
cold hands and feet
low blood pressure
poor cognitive/mental function
– e.g.: poor memory, seizures, unexplained spinal cord degeneration
In fact, the usual (and most common) way to test your levels of vitamin B12 has been through your blood, to literally test the level of B12 in your blood. However, this method of testing has proven to be not very accurate of the actual levels in your body, or what is actually available in your tissues and cells. Instead, a newer and much more accurate and sensitive way to test your functional level of tissue-containing B12 is through a specific test, for what is called “methylmalonic acid”, or MMA. This is a substance that builds up in your blood or urine if there isn’t enough functional vitamin B12 in your tissues. Many studies have shown that MMA would be a much more effective way to confirm vitamin B12 sufficiency.
More people are deficient in vitamin B12 than we think
A 2009 case report appearing in Practical Neurology, from Oxford University’s Department of Neurology refers to a person who developed significant brain and spinal cord neurological damage, due to delayed detection of vitamin B12 deficiency, having relied on the standard method of serum vitamin B12 testing. Once this patient finally received a series of vitamin B12 injections, after testing with the MMA marker, the symptoms reversed. It makes you wonder how many people are suffering with such profound neurological damage due to outdated methods of testing. Other research has shown that the MMA test can predict which patients with poor cognitive function will decline faster; other studies have also shown the benefit of a neurologically active form of vitamin B12, called methylcobalamin, in some children with Autism.
In my naturopathic practice, I suspect a vitamin B12 functional deficiency in about one-third of my patients (keep in mind that some of the same vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms can also be explained by the effect of pesticides or solvents on the nerves). Often, I use a B12 ‘challenge’ test, or a ‘therapeutic trial’ where I administer an intramuscular injection of preservative-free vitamin B12, and wait up to two days for a response. Often patients will tell me that their energy significantly improved, the ‘black cloud’ (representing their mood) cleared up, they slept better, their mind felt a bit sharper, or some other specific improvement. Usually you would need a few injections to correct the deficiency, or to notice a lasting improvement.
Of course, determining the underlying cause of the vitamin B12 deficiency is important. Is it related to a strict vegetarian diet, maldigestion of food, low intestinal absorption, or stomach-acid suppressing medications, since you require sufficient stomach acid to ensure vitamin B12 absorption into the body.
Vitamin B12 is a fascinating essential factor in our health. It is likely that many people are low in this vitamin but are not aware of it themselves, or to their doctors. In time, I expect the methylmalonic acid test will likely replace the inaccurate serum vitamin B12 test, as a more accurate method of testing vitamin B12 levels. You can call the office to book a Vitamin B12 Screening Visit for testing and possible treatment – 905-597-7201.
Rahim is a registered naturopathic doctor who has a general family practice, with a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxify their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s learning and behavioural health, and chronic conditions in adults. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.