In India, 60-70% of the population is believed to have lower vitamin B12 blood levels, with nearly 80% of urban middle class having this deficiency. Low levels of vitamin B12 contribute to the higher incidence of vascular diseases and with low folate levels accounting for higher prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia, (characterised by high levels of protein, homocysteine in the blood ) among Indians. Hence, vitamin B12 & folate are essential for heart health.
These factors, along with genetic predisposition contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency. Individuals who have difficulty in absorbing vitamin B12 from foods, as well as vegetarians who consume no animal foods, might benefit from vitamin B12- fortified foods, oral vitamin B12 supplements, or vitamin B12 injections.
The FUT2 gene produces a protein involved in the attachment of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori to the gastric mucosa, which in turn inhibits the absorption of vitamin B12. One type of FUT2 is associated with low vitamin B12 blood levels. Individuals who carry this type are about 16% lower than non-carriers. Vegetarian carriers are at an increased risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Such individuals may benefit from adequate vitamin B12 intake.
Cheese, milk, yoghurt, whey powder, yeast extract spreads (marmite) are some of the vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 status is usually assessed via blood test. An elevated serum homocysteine level might also suggest a vitamin B12 deficiency. However elevated methylmalonic acid levels might be a more reliable indicator of vitamin B12 status because they indicate a metabolic change that is highly specific to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Watch out for symptoms such fatigue, skin pigmentation, memory loss, tingling in the limbs, cramps, giddiness, palpitations, mouth ulcers and loss of energy that are usually associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
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