Vitamin B12. Your Ally For Optimal Mental Health

(DougCookRD.com)

You cannot out medicate a crappy diet

The focus in mental health nutrition these days is mostly about trying to get a handle on the increased rates of obesity and metabolic issues caused by many of the anti-psychotic medications and mood stabilizers [the new word for what was once ‘antidepressants’] and with good reason, it’s a real problem. The price of managing psychoses, depression and anxiety is a significant increased risk for diabetes and other endocrine dysfunction and yes this has to be dealt with.

But there is much more to the story and that’s where the role of nutrition in mental health comes into plays as it relates to brain health and mood which I’ve written about before: Can Omega 3 Fats help to Improve Mental Health? and  Healthy eating for Healthy Moods. Part 1. The take away is that no amount medications can make up for a lack of nutrients or poor nutrition. If someone has a functional deficiency, one where all of the body’s requirements for a nutrient are not met, then medication can’t be as effective. To think otherwise is at best naive and worst irresponsible.

Vitamin B12 – an unsung hero in mental health

Vitamin B12 is one of the more important nutrients needed for a healthy brain; it only has 2 roles in human health; it helps 2 enzymes [methionine synthase & L-methylmalonyl-coenzyme A mutase] to do their job; without enough vitamin B12 these enzymes can’t do their best work. You might be thinking, ya OK, but it’s only 2 little enzymes what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that these 2 enzymes are involved in a TON of biological reactions such as DNA replication, protein synthesis, red blood cell formation, detoxification and energy production from fats and proteins to name a few, not to mention preventing brain atrophy [i.e. shrinkage] and nerve damage. But, of all the jobs B12 does, good mental health depends on the optimal function of the enzyme methionine synthase whose job it is to 1] keep homocysteine levels low and to 2] keep methylation reactions chugging along.

Vitamin B12 – “cobalamin”

Elevated homocysteine is bad from a mental health point of view as it drives inflammation and inflammation worsens depression and anxiety. Vitamin B12’s other big job involves methylation; one of the most important, and common, biochemical reactions that takes place throughout the entire body including the brain and nervous system. Methylation modifies gene expression [turning on disease-fighting genes & turning off disease-promoting genes], supports the liver’s ability to detoxify heavy metals and more but from a mental health perspective, B12-dependent methylation regulates neurotransmitter production & function. This is why an inadequate intake of vitamin B12 is also linked to ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety, dementia, cognitive decline, depression and bipolar disorder.

Who’s at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency?
  • Older adults [can’t absorb vitamin B12 well]
  • Those with pernicious anemia
  • Those with gastrointestinal disorders [celiac disease, Crohn’s]
  • Regular consumers of alcohol [causes intestinal damage & inflammation]
  • Atrophic gastritis [10-30% of those over 60 who develop antibodies against the stomach and/or infection like H pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers]
  • Bariatric surgery treatment for obesity
  • Presence of 1 or more autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes & thyroiditis
  • Vegetarians [little to no animal foods & vegans]
  • Pregnant & lactating women who follow vegetarian diets
  • Medications that that interfere with B12 absorption such as proton pump inhibitors [Prilosec, Prevacid], acid reducers like Zantac, and the anti-diabetes drug metformin
Recommended amounts
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin B12
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0–6 months* 0.4 mcg 0.4 mcg
7–12 months* 0.5 mcg 0.5 mcg
1–3 years 0.9 mcg 0.9 mcg
4–8 years 1.2 mcg 1.2 mcg
9–13 years 1.8 mcg 1.8 mcg
14+ years 2.4 mcg 2.4 mcg 2.6 mcg 2.8 mcg
Selected Food Sources of Vitamin B12
Food Micrograms (mcg)
per serving
Percent DV*
Clams, cooked, 3 ounces 84.1 1,402
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces 70.7 1,178
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving 6.0 100
Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces 5.4 90
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces 4.8 80
Trout, rainbow, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 3.5 58
Tuna fish, light, canned in water, 3 ounces 2.5 42
Cheeseburger, double patty and bun, 1 sandwich 2.1 35
Haddock, cooked, 3 ounces 1.8 30
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving 1.5 25
Beef, top sirloin, broiled, 3 ounces 1.4 23
Milk, low-fat, 1 cup 1.2 18
Yogurt, fruit, low-fat, 8 ounces 1.1 18
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce 0.9 15
Beef taco, 1 soft taco 0.9 15
Ham, cured, roasted, 3 ounces 0.6 10
Egg, whole, hard boiled, 1 large 0.6 10
Chicken, breast meat, roasted, 3 ounces 0.3 5
What about supplements?

Supplements for high risk groups for the prevention and treatment of vitamin B12 is a good idea. How much should someone take? That all depends on an individual’s unique situation which needs to be assessed by a health practitioner. Vitamin B12 doesn’t work alone either; it needs folate, vitamin B6 and other supporting nutrients which is why a nutritional and wellness/lifestyle assessment is recommended rather that running out and self-treating yourself with individual supplements here and there.

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