With so many vitamins and minerals out there, it’s hard to know if you’re meeting the daily-recommended amounts of each. Vitamin B12 is one nutrient many people are lacking in their diet. Unlike vitamin D and vitamin K, your body doesn’t make its own vitamin B12, so you have to get it from the food you eat to get it at all.
Vitamin B12 has several important functions in the body. It helps form red blood cells, keeping you from becoming anemic; keeps nerve and brain tissue healthy; enables your body to absorb folic acid—a nutrient that assists in the release of energy; and helps make your DNA.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates that in the United States and United Kingdom, six percent of the population over the age of 60 is deficient in vitamin B12.
How can you know if you’re getting enough vitamin B12, and if you’re deficient, what’s the best treatment? You’re about to find out.
Are You B12 Deficient?
Any time you have a vitamin deficiency, symptoms come on slowly. It can take years to recognize the symptoms, but as time goes by, symptoms become more noticeable. Because vitamin B12 is vital to the production of red blood cells, the main symptom of a deficiency is anemia.
Common symptoms include weakness, lightheadedness, fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, gastrointestinal irregularities, muscle weakness, weight loss, nerve conditions such as numbness or tingling, a sore tongue, vision loss, changes in behavior or mood, and memory loss.
Causes for Deficiency
It’s rare for people in developed countries to not get enough vitamin B12 in their diet. Vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat animal products like meat, cheese, milk, and eggs are at the greatest risk for a deficiency.
Pernicious anemia is another cause for a vitamin B12 deficiency. This autoimmune disease damages the lining of the stomach, making it difficult for the body to properly absorb vitamin B12. Other conditions that put you at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency include bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or parasites. And if you’ve undergone weight-loss surgery or other surgery that reduces the size of the stomach or intestines, have used acid-reducing drugs for multiple years, and are an alcoholic, your risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency is greater than the general population.
What to Do
If the symptoms listed above sound familiar, a simple blood or breath test can tell if you’re low in vitamin B12, and treatment depends on the cause. If your diet is lacking, then your physician will recommend you change what you eat, take supplements, or get B12 injections. When the cause is due to disease or medical conditions outside of your control that hinder your body’s ability to absorb enough B12, six rounds of B12 shots should do the trick.
Regardless, once you are diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, regular blood tests to monitor your B12 levels and booster shots every few months may be necessary to maintain optimal health. In some cases, nasal therapy or oral supplements may be enough to resolve the issue.
How Much Is Enough?
The amount of vitamin B12 you need each day for health and wellness depends on your age, your medical conditions, and what medications you take. In general, children 1 to 3 years of age should get 0.9 micrograms (mcg) each day, ages 4 to 8 need 1.2 mcg, 9 to 13 require 1.8 mcg, teenagers and adults should get 2.4 mcg, pregnant women 2.6 mcg, and breastfeeding women a bit more at 2.8 mcg.
Foods high in vitamin B12 include animal products such as meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Some cereals are fortified with vitamin B12, and many daily multivitamins contain 6 mcg of vitamin B12, which is more than your daily-recommended amount.