If you're in your twenties or thirties, odds are you aren't worried about your daily vitamin intake. And nutrient deficiencies? Eh, if you don't feel any negative side effects, it's probably nothing to concern yourself with. Sound like you?
Well, not to freak you out or anything, but Vitamin B12 is absolutely crucial to your health, and one of the most silent and dangerous deficiencies. Not only is B12 required for dopamine-stimulation in the brain—the pleasure-producing hormone responsible for combating depression and boosting your mood—it's essential for staving off cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive disorders, and keeping nerve and blood cells healthy. That's not all. A new study, published in the journal Plus One, discovered vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
In the study, researchers observed the brains of over 60 deceased men and women (ranging in age from 19 weeks to 80+), as well as 12 young individuals with autism and nine middle-aged individuals with schizophrenia. As expected, the older-aged individuals contained the lowest levels of B12 vitamins in their brain compared to the youngest group (exactly 10 times lower).
But, interestingly enough, the young people with autism and the middle-aged people with schizophrenia had brains containing about one-third of the vitamin B12 levels as people who were similar in age and didn't have the neurological conditions. Specifically, those with autism—who were all under age 10—had levels similar to those found in a 57-year-old; and those with schizophrenia—who were between the ages 36 and 49—had levels similar to those found in a 72-year-old, reports Science Line.
"It's not clear what these low levels imply, but the uptake of too little B12 might hinder the brain's ability to establish important neural connections between regions," Deth told Science Line.
The amount of B12 an individual should consume depends on age, per the National Institutes of Health, but you can start by amping up your intake by including fresh meat, fish, and dairy foods into your diet. And for any vegetarians or vegans who suffer the deficiency—since vitamin B12 comes directly from animals and animal byproducts—one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests meeting your B12 needs through consumption of fortified breakfast cereals as well as fermented beans and vegetables. As always, If you're really concerned, talk to your doctor who can tell you about alternative options.