Topic / Blog

To 'B' or not to 'B'

So similar are the damage caused by MS and the damage done by a deficiency in vitamin B12 that one condition is quite often confused for the other.

Vitamin B12 is critical for the health of your nervous system. It’s a key player when it comes to metabolising the fatty acids which maintain myelin, and it has important immunomodulatory and neurotrophic effects.

However, the absorption of vitamin B12 is poor in many people. For some it is a dietary deficiency. For others, it is simply the inability to absorb B12 from the intestine.

And for others again, the deficiency is caused by low levels of acid in the stomach − be that naturally occurring, or caused by drugs designed to actively lower these levels such as ranitidine or omneprazole.

Sustained B12 deficiency can lead to irreversible neurological damage, very similar to that found in cases of MS. In fact, so similar are the damage caused by MS and the damage done by a deficiency in vitamin B12 that one condition is quite often confused for the other.

What’s more, some researchers believe that low B12 could, in some cases, be responsible for causing MS itself. Ok, so let’s all have a big helping of something that contains plenty of B12, right?

Well, here’s the problem. B12 is primarily found in meat (the richest source being liver), as well as eggs and dairy − the high saturated fat contents of which will have exactly the stimulating effect on our immune system that we must avoid.

And no plant food, unfortunately, can deliver anywhere near the same levels. Unsurprisingly, vitamin B12 deficiency is a common occurrence in vegans. There is, however, good news in that vitamin B12 is completely non-toxic, and no harm can therefore come from taking supplements.

Whilst injections are an option, so is a simple, readily available vitamin pill, and our recommendation if your levels are low is that you take between 250 to 1000 micrograms per week.

It is not an essential recommendation of the program, but adhering to a plant-based diet such as the one we advise will be likely to mean your levels of this important vitamin are low.

In fact, given the benefits carried by all the B group vitamins (particularly important for normal brain function), a B group mixture may be the best choice. Your doctor can test your B12 levels, along with any other regular blood tests he makes and this will pinpoint whether you'll benefit from supplementation.