The secret supplement that can fix brain fog

If you’re battling brain fog, having trouble concentrating at work, or just feeling totally drained, you’re probably reaching for a caffeine shot or a sugary snack. But before you do, consider this: it might be time to reach for a lesser-known, healthier pick-me-up.

Vitamin B12 is an often-overlooked vitamin that’s essential for keeping our brains sharp and our nervous systems running at peak levels. It is also key to healthy blood cell formation.

This month, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned physicians about the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in people taking metformin, a widely used drug used to treat type 2 diabetes that affects the efficiency of absorption of the vitamin through the body. A drug safety update suggested that patients with risk factors for B12 deficiency should be monitored.

But what about the rest of us: could low vitamin B12 levels be to blame for our declining ability to concentrate?

“Meat, eggs, fish and dairy are the top dietary sources of vitamin B12,” says Priya Tew, a Registered Dietitian and Founder of Dietitian UK. “If you don’t eat meat or dairy and you’re vegan or vegetarian, you definitely need to be aware of the risk of deficiency.”

Recent estimates from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggest that 11 percent of vegans are affected by B12 deficiency. Older people are also more at risk. Overall, B12 deficiency affects about 6 percent of people under 60 and 20 percent of those over 60.

“As we get older, our appetite decreases, so we may eat fewer foods with vitamin B12. We’re also less able to absorb it effectively,” says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of The Science of Nutrition. “Older women may also be at higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because they are more likely to develop the autoimmune condition pernicious anemia, which causes your immune system to attack the cells in your stomach that make intrinsic factor – a protein this helps your gut absorb vitamin B12.

“Other risk groups include those who have had abdominal or bowel surgery and anyone taking long-term antacids for heartburn.”

However, if you eat meat, eggs, and dairy, chances are you’re still getting your fair share of B12 and probably don’t need to worry. “If your absorption isn’t completely efficient, that’s probably less of a problem than if you’re vegan or vegetarian,” says Tew. “But it’s worth talking to your doctor if you’re concerned about the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet or your body’s ability to absorb it.”

Early symptoms of a deficiency are tiredness, exhaustion and mood swings. However, if vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, it could become more serious. “Eventually, you can get a form of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia, which is different from the type caused by iron deficiency,” says Tew. “B12 deficiency can also affect fertility and increase the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies during pregnancy.” In extreme cases, vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.

Luckily, even if you’re vegan or just want to cut down on meat and dairy, there are still plenty of ways you can get your vitamin B12 boost. “Breakfast cereals and plant-based milks, like almonds and soy, are often fortified with B12, and like it or not, marmite is also high in vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast flakes fortified with vitamin B12 are another great way to up your intake. Simply sprinkle over salads, pasta or rice.”

So how much do we need in our daily diet? The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 need around 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. (A microgram, mcg, is one-thousandth of a milligram, mg).

“By sticking with these recommended daily intakes of vitamin B12, you can improve your mood and energy,” says Tew, who suggests reading the information on your cereal box or plant-based milk container to double-check amounts.


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