Research indicates that H pylori infection can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. This may be one of the reasons why patients feel tired, depressed and anxious as a result of having chronic H pylori infection.
Unfortunately, the majority of health care professionals in the medical system do not look at chronic digestive infections and gut dysfunction as a cause of such symptoms, but the cause-effect relationship is undeniable when you look at how your body works!
In some people, H pylori is known to cause an autoimmune reaction against the parietal cells of the stomach. The parietal cells secrete acid and intrinsic factor into the stomach, which helps break down food, releasing vitamins and minerals for your body to absorb through the intestine.
Intrinsic factor is absolutely critical for the absorption of B12, so anything that causes its levels to reduce or decline can be highly significant.
So if you have H pylori and it’s causing problems related to parietal cell function, you’re going to have low stomach acid levels and decreased intrinsic factor secretion, both of which will inevitably lead to vitamin and mineral malabsorption.
In addition, as you will see below, other digestive infections such as tapeworm and Giardia lamblia can also result in a reductino in B12 absorption. This is why it’s so important to run stool testing to determine whether any of these organisms are present.
Gluten, which is probably the single biggest problem in the diet of the western world, can also damage the intestines and result in deficiency of B12 and many other important nutrients. That’s why we teach all our clients to eat a gluten-free diet.
Finally, the reckless overuse of antacid medications can reduce acid levels to a point where vitamin B12 cannot be split from proteins, etc in food, therby leading to difficulties in absorption.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Deficiency in vitamin B12 is know to cause neurological symptoms. The brain is the commander-in-chief of the nervous system, so inadequate vitamin B12 may lead to a plethora of symptoms that may never be related to gut function by your doctor, including:
- Poor memory
- Behavioural and Personality Disorders
When gluten intolerance, H pylori and other digestive infections are present, these neurological symptoms may or may not be accompanied by digestive symptoms. It’s essential to remember that the absence of digestive symptoms does NOT mean that the likes of gluten, H pylori and parasites are not doing harm. Many symptoms can develop elsewhere in the body as a result of the collateral damage that is being done by these foods and infections.
Other Causes of B12 Deficiency
It is important to note that H pylori is not the only cause of B12 deficiency. Here are some others:
- Inadequate dietary intake of vitamin B12. As the vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal products (eggs, meat, milk) a vegan diet can produce a deficiency.
- Poor absorption of vitamin B12 due to intrinsic factor deficiency. This may depend on loss of gastric parietal cells in chronic atrophic gastritis, caused by autoimmune reactions due to H pylori and gluten.
- Impaired absorption of vitamin B12 in the setting of a more generalized malabsorption or maldigestion syndrome. This includes any form of structural damage of the ileum (the principal site of vitamin B12 absorption.
- Surgical removal of the small bowel.
- Genetic polymorphism (e.g. MTHFR).
- Coeliac disease may also cause impaired absorption of this vitamin due gluten-induced damage to the small bowel (villous atrophy / enteropathy).
- Chronic intestinal infestation by the fish tapeworm, which competes for vitamin B12, sfor its own use, thereby leaving insufficient amounts for the host organism.
- Bacterial overgrowth in parts of the small bowel are thought to be able to absorb B12.
- Some studies have shown that Giardia infestation can also lead to the malabsorption of vitamin B12. Giardia parasites can coat the small intestine and often result in fatigue in addition to classic diarrhoea symptoms.
- Chronic alcohol abuse.
Treatment of B12 Deficiency
The medical approach to the treatment of B12 deficiency would typically be to prescribe B12 supplements (sprays, pills, sublingual drops) or injections.
These approaches can be beneficial and many patiens will testify that B12 repletion has improved their quality of life considerably.
But when you look at the true underlying causes, don’t you think it would be better to remove the foods and bugs that actually led to the malabsorption of B12 in the first place and to introduce foods that actually provide higher levels of B12 as well?
If you think about it, simply taking B12 really doesn’t address the underlying cause of the problem. Taking B12 on its own, without addressing diet, lifestyle and gut health is really just the lazy way out and, to be honest, it rarely works in the long run.
It doesn’t work because if you have gluten-intolerance, worms, Giardia, H pylori and the like, those things are going to cause you a lot more problems than just B12 deficiency. So you can take B12 all you like, but somewhere down the line, your body is going to give you many more signals – pain, memory loss, even lower energy levels, infertility, skin complaints – that you need to address the cause.
The Functional Nutrition Approach To B12 Deficiency
First, if injections and supplementation are required to help ease symptoms, that’s fine. We’re not fighting western medicine, we’re trying to complement it.
But we need to get to the cause of the problem, so:
- Address diet – we analyse what you’re doing and switch you to what you need to do.
- Assess for digestive infections using advanced stool testing. Do you have optimal digestive enzyme levels, inflammation, parasites, bacterial or yeast overgrowth?
- Assess for gluten intolerance / celiac disease. This is essential in every person who wlaks through our doors.
- Remove what we need to remove from your body – i.e. digestive invaders, gluten, etc.
- Repair your ability to digest and absorb food.
- Assess you for other nutritional deficiencies and then replace what needs to be replaced.
If you follow this basic, step-by-step process, it is much harder NOT to get the results you desire because we are simply honouring the way your body works and helping it return back to the way it’s supposed to function!
Testing & Assessing Vitamin B12 Levels
It is possible to check vitamin B12 levels in a blood sample and this will certainly provide useful information. However Vitamin B12 does not do many of its jobs in the body. In order to perform its functions, it must move out of the blood and into the tissues of the body. A blood test is therefore not always as accurate as you may think.
We personally use urine testing called “Organic Acid” testing to evaluate B12 levels in our clients. The advantage of this testing is that it tells you whether certain key metabolic pathways are being blocked because there is inadequate B12. Science has now told us beyond doubt that Organic Acid testing is able to detect B12 deficiency at a much earlier stage than basic blood testing.
The bottom line is that poor diet, gluten, H pylori and digestive parasites such as hookworm, whipworm and amoebic infection can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. This can leave you feeling tired, depressed and weak, affect your memory and potentially cause severe neurological complications. Taking B12 supplements can help, but you really must identify the root cause of why the symptoms are occurring.
Updated Research Articles – H Pylori & Vitamin B12 / Folic Acid Deficiency
Ciok et al. Helicobacter pylori Eradication and Serum Level of Homocysteine and Folic Acid – 1 Year Intervention Study. Helicobacter 2006 (A08.01); 11: 321-415.
Queiroz et al. The effect of Helicobacter pylori eradication on plasma vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels in elderly patients. Helicobacter 2004 (A08.04); 9: 487-604.
Sipponen et al. H pylori Related Atrophic Gastritis is a Common Cause of low Vitamin B12 and High Homocysteine in Serum in an Elderly Male Population. Helicobacter 2003 (A07.01); 8: 339-493.
Kaptan et al. Helicobacter pylori – is it a novel causative agent in vitamin B12 deficiency? Arch Intern Med. 2000; (160): 1349-1353.
Carmel et al. Helicobacter pylori Infection and Food-Cobalamin Malabsorption. Dig Dis Sci. 1994; (39) 2: 309-314.
Lewerin et al. Serum biomarkers for atrophic gastritis and antibodies against Helicobacter pylori in the elderly: Implications for vitamin B12, folic acid and iron status and response to oral vitamin therapy. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2008; (9):1050-56.