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My father, who lived until he was 89, always swore that the Vitamin B12 shots his doctor prescribed gave him a boost of energy and helped him think more clearly. So when a friend of mine in her 50s recently declared the same thing, I began to wonder: What does B12 actually do? What about oral versus injection? And just how important is this particular B vitamin?
B12 is super important: It helps in the formation of red blood cells, in the synthesis of DNA, and in the proper functioning of nerve cells. In addition, says naturopath Sara Henderson, it helps break down homocysteine which, when high, can contribute to heart disease and cognitive decline. There’s also evidence it protects against macular degeneration, a serious eye disease.
Though B12 is abundant in fish and meat, vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough of it. People with B12 deficiency can develop pernicious anemia, a blood disorder, because they can’t produce enough of something called intrinsic factor which is necessary to absorb B12. A blood test can diagnose a deficiency, but signs that you may need more include fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, tingling of fingers or toes and general muscle weakness.
In her practice at Windsor’s Harmony and Health clinic, Henderson gives B12 injections to patients who either have a diagnosed B12 deficiency or who have symptoms of tiredness, tingling in their limbs, or who just feel lousy. She explains that various medications can deplete the body’s B12 resources and some people just need more than what is considered the normal amount.
Because any extra B12 not needed by the body is excreted in the urine, Henderson says the vitamin is safe. “A lot of people have health issues but never consider that it could be a vitamin deficiency. So I might give them an injection, then ask them to report back. If they say, ‘I feel better,’ that gives me valuable information. Injections give you a quicker boost and it’s good for people who are not compliant or who have a hard time taking supplements.”
But injections are inconvenient, says Gary Leong, vice president of Scientific Affairs at Jamieson Laboratories. “In the past, there was the perception that supplements were not as effective as injections. If you look at the strict chemistry, it’s true. But when you bring in the whole equation - daily supplementation, costs and not having to go and get the injection - then supplements are a viable option.”
Jamieson’s B12 uses methylcobalamin, a type of B12 that they claim is more protective against neurological diseases and is more bio-available (it goes through one less chemical conversion in the body.) Sublingual strips offer faster under-the-tongue absorption. “Consumers have to educate themselves,” Leong advises. “For example, not all multi-vitamins or even B-complex vitamins include B12. Check on the label to make sure B12 is in it.”
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