Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin mostly obtained from dairy products and meat. It is a critical ingredient your body needs to make red blood cells and also helps your nervous system work correctly. If you have low B12 levels, you might have anemia, depression, dementia or neuropathy (pain, burning or tingling sensation). Some people with low B12 also have high levels of homocysteine which may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can run a simple blood test to see if your B12 level is low.
The most common reasons for low B12 are 1) not taking in enough in your diet or 2) a problem with your stomach or intestines that prevents you from being able to absorb the vitamin. This includes Pernicious Anemia (where you do not have the cells needed in your stomach to absorb B12) or long standing heartburn or ulcers or having had surgery on your stomach or intestines.
In the past, everyone who needed B12 supplementation was given shots- initially given several times a week for a couple weeks and then once a month. Now we know that unless you have a problem absorbing B12, it is just as effective to take a daily pill instead of getting a shot. Over the counter Vitamin B12 pills do not have enough B12 to increase your levels- you need to take at least 1000 mcg of B12 everyday. You can get a prescription for this high dose from your doctor if you levels are low.
Even if you’ve been getting Vitamin B12 shots for years, you can switch to the pill and it will be just as effective unless you have a problem absorbing B12 from your digestive tract.
According to a recent study by Nielson, the average American watches about 5 hours of TV per day or 153 hours per month. That’s almost 160 hours per month – equivalent to another 40 hour work week. In a 65 year life, that person will have spent 9 years watching television! That doesn’t even count the time spent playing video games or on the computer. Did you know the average American youth spends 900 hours in school in one year and 1500 hours watching TV in one year?
It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children have their screen time (TV, videos, video games, computer time) limited to no more than 2 hours total per day. If yours or yours child’s screen time was truly 2 hours a day, how much time would be left to participate in more stimulating and productive activities? If you only watched 2 hours of TV a day, your children would also be much less likely to watch over 2 hours a day. There would be more time to exercise or be involved in some sort of physical activity, spend more time in conversation with our children, help them with homework, prepare healthier meals and eat them with our family. Essentially, there would be more time to do a huge number of activities that are likely more valuable than watching TV. Next time you say “I don”t have time to exercise or cook my family a healthy dinner” add up the hours that week you spent glued to the TV and ask yourself if that is really true?
Here’s one thing I have noticed about the grocery store. The healthiest foods are located around the periphery of the store. That’s where the dairy, meats, fruits and vegetables are found. The aisles are typically filled with pre-packaged, processed carbohydrates and bad fats. Think about your trips to the grocery store- do you find most of the items on your list around the periphery in the produce and refrigerated sections or do you spend most of your time weaving your way through the aisles? More “aisle time” probably reflects the amount of unhealthy food you are stocking your pantry with which almost certainly reflects what you are eating. Except for an occasional trip to an aisle for a specific item like beans or legumes for example, try spending your next trip to the grocery store only around the periphery and notice the difference in what’s in your refrigerator when you get home.
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.