In addition to our Basic Vitamin Screen and Full Vitamin Screen, we also offer additional screens for specific, key vitamins.
The Role of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that contains the mineral cobalt. This nutrient helps to keep your body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, and helps to make the genetic material inside cells (DNA). Vitamin B12 is abundant in beef liver and clams, but is also high in most fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. Additionally, many breakfast cereals, and other food products are fortified with vitamin B12.
Your Body has developed a special two-step approach to absorbing vitamin B12 from food. First, stomach acid separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which it is attached in food. The released vitamin B12 must then combine with a specific protein made by the stomach, which is called intrinsic factor. The intrinsic factor then helps the vitamin B12 to be absorbed by the body. Synthetic vitamin B12 from fortified foods and supplements does not need to be separated from protein in the stomach, but still needs to be attached to intrinsic factor. Even in optimal health we are really poor at absorbing vitamin B12, and you can expect to absorb around half of an average dose.
Vitamin B12 and anaemia
Vitamin B12 is also associated with certain types of anaemia
- Pernicious anaemia. You develop pernicious anaemia when you cannot make intrinsic factor, which stops you from absorbing vitamin B12. Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that attacks the lining of your stomach, causing it to shrink and become less effective at absorbing other nutrients too. The stomach then also produces less acid, which is important for immunity and nutrient absorption. The result is vitamin B12 malabsorption and pernicious anaemia. If this is left untreated, it causes vitamin B12 deficiency, megaloblastic anaemia, and the range of additional symptoms.
- Megaloblastic anaemia. Vitamin B12 helps to form proper, healthy blood cells. If you do not get enough vitamin B12 you develop big (mega) immature or new (blastic) red blood cells. These immature blood cells die easily and are less effective, resulting in anaemia.
If you have anaemia, you may suffer from:
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness) and lethargy (lack of energy) – this can include easily tiring during exercise.
- Breathlessness – it takes less effort to get short of breath.
- Faintness – this may be worse when rising from sitting or from lying down.
The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Additional symptoms include:
- Jaundice – a yellow tinge to your skin (this is because of increased red cell breakdown – see liver function tests, and bilirubin).
- A sore and red tongue that may appear larger than normal, with or without mouth ulcers.
- Changes in pain and touch sensitivity: reduced sense of touch and ability to feel pain, often starting in your lower legs and moving upward gradually.
- A change in the way that you walk and move around (medically called ataxia).
- Disturbed vision.
- Changes in your mental function: irritability, depression (extreme sadness), psychosis (your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours change), and dementia (your memory, understanding, and judgement become less sharp).
Who Should Get the Vitamin B12 Test?
If you have any of the symptoms above, you should definitely consider this test. In addition, some groups may absorb less vitamin B12.
- Older adults. As you age, the amount of stomach acid usually lowers, meaning that you cannot absorb the natural vitamin B12 in food. Supplements can help.
- People with bowel problems. Surgery on the stomach and bowels, including weight loss surgery, can reduce the amount of this vitamin absorbed. Also, if you have coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease, you may absorb less vitamin B12.
- Vegetarians and vegans. Only animal foods have vitamin B12 naturally.
What is Tested in the Vitamin B12 Test?
At alpha Healthlabs, we check the levels of both major B12 vitamins needed for optimal metabolism, which are known as cobalamins. Both of these are needed in human metabolism:
This includes the two major B12 vitamins: methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin.
What Will the Test Involve?
This test involves taking a small blood sample from a vein. We describe the process here .
What Could Abnormal Results Mean?*
On its own, no test can provide a definitive diagnosis, and can only provide important “clues” about possible problems. Normal results cannot entirely exclude disease: for example, normal results can exist in patients with serious disease, and occasionally, abnormal results can arise without any health problems. The normal ranges of tests can also vary between different laboratories, so it is not always possible to compare results directly.
At Alpha Healthlabs, we believe in giving you an unparalleled and ethically sound service. Therefore, the meaning of all your results will be explained and we will suggest the most appropriate next course of action. It is important that you do not initiate any action based on these results without first consulting your General Practitioner.
Common Issues Raised by this Test
The common issues raised by this test include, but are not limited to:
See symptom list above
Folic acid may mask your results
Large amounts of folic acid can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency by correcting megaloblastic anaemia. Unfortunately, the folic acid does not correct the damage to the nervous system that vitamin B12 deficiency causes. We recommend the Full B Vitamin Screen.
Health Risks from Excessive vitamin B12
In 2 trials, vitamin B12 supplementation in combination with folic acid/vitamin B6 did not cause any serious adverse events when administered at doses of 0.4 mg for 40 months (NORVIT trial) and 1.0 mg for 5 years (HOPE 2 trial).
Can pernicious anaemia be treated?
Yes. If diagnosed, your doctor will be able to treat pernicious anaemia with vitamin B12 injections. In some cases, very high oral doses (tablets or drinks) of vitamin B12 can be effective.
How can I increase my vitamin B12 levels?
Vitamin B12 is abundant in beef liver and clams, but is also high in most fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. Additionally, many breakfast cereals and other food products are fortified with vitamin B12.