A Beginner’s Guide to Vitamin B12: Everything to Know
Over 170 million Americans spend over $30 billion a year on vitamin supplements. They want to promote their health by ensuring they have all the necessary nutrients. Vitamin B12 is one of the most important compounds your body uses. It’s essential to the everyday production of red blood cells and the health of your brain.
The effects of a B12 are wide-ranging and severe, from neurological changes to a major dip in energy. The best way to avoid them is to get the nutrient in your diet and take supplements to make up for any remaining deficit.
Read our guide to learn how B12 affects your body, how to tell if you’re getting enough of it, and what sources are available.
How Vitamin B12 Works
To understand how and why you need a particular vitamin, it’s best to learn how it affects your body. You should learn the effect it has on you and how much of it you actually need.
Vitamin B12 is water-soluble, and it begins to dissolve as soon as it hits your tongue and begins its journey down your digestive tract. This is true of most vitamins, and it does share a lot in common with them.
What distinguishes it from all the other water-soluble vitamins is the presence of cobalt. This allows it to perform functions that other vitamins can’t.
There are several forms of Vitamin B12 known as cobalamins. The most popular one is cyanocobalamin, the primary ingredient in supplements.
It works with folic acid to synthesize DNA. If you’re deficient in either of these compounds, your body won’t be able to produce red blood cells. Vitamin B12 also synthesizes fatty acids that create the myelin sheath that protect nerve cells.
The amount of Vitamin B12 you need every day depends on your age. The older you get, the more of it you require to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Babies need 0.4-0.5 mcg. Children need 0.9-1.8 mcg depending on their age.
Teens and adults both need 2.4 mcg. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 2.6-2.8 mcg to prevent any harm to themselves or their baby.
Older adults may need more as their ability to absorb Vitamin B12 decreases. Those with conditions that affect their ability to absorb the vitamin may also need larger amounts.
When you have the correct amount of Vitamin B12 in your body, you’ll notice no ill effects. You’ll create enough blood cells and have enough energy. If the numbers dip too low, you could start to feel a variety of negative signs and symptoms.
Approximately 1.5-15% of Americans have a vitamin B12 deficiency. The actual numbers may be higher as the condition often goes undiagnosed or gets confused with other psychological or medical issues.
Certain types of people are considered high-risk for B12 deficiency. These include the elderly, vegetarians and vegans, and patients with conditions that prevent them from absorbing vitamins. They must take extra care to regulate vitamin levels.
Knowing the causes, signs, and symptoms to look out for will let you know when you should talk to your doctor. If you suspect you have a deficiency, seek help as soon as possible.
There are several conditions and issues that can contribute to Vitamin B12 deficiency. They include pernicious anemia, stomach removal or destruction, bacterial overgrowth, and dietary deficiencies.
Intrinsic factor is secreted by the stomach lining. It attaches to Vitamin B12 and carries it to the intestines so the body can absorb it.
If you don’t have enough intrinsic factor, a condition known as pernicious anemia, you’ll be deficient in Vitamin B12 as well. Your body won’t be able to absorb or use enough of it.
Surgeries to remove all or part of the stomach may lead to a Vitamin B12 deficiency. The digestive tract is necessary for the body to absorb this essential nutrient.
Conditions such as diabetes, scleroderma, strictures, and diverticula may cause bacteria to build up in the intestines. They become parasites, using all the Vitamin B12 your body needs and leaving you deficient.
Dietary issues are the most common cause of Vitamin B12 deficiencies. It results from not getting a balanced, varied diet rich in the proper nutrients.
Our bodies let us know when we’re lacking an essential nutrient like B12. Pay attention as soon as you notice a difference in the way you feel, look, or behave.
Some of the major signs of a Vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Pale and/or jaundiced skin
- Tingling sensations
- Inflammed tongue or mouth ulcers
- Breathlessness and dizziness
- Blurred or disrupted vision
- Mood changes
- Fever or temperature changes
Other signs exist, but these are some of the most common and obvious to look out for. The sooner you can get a Vitamin B12 deficiency diagnosed, the sooner you can begin treatment.
Vitamin B12 is such an essential nutrient that even a minor deficiency can affect the body. It can lead to a variety of debilitating symptoms.
Neurological changes result from long-term damage to nerves and/or neurons. They can include numbness in the extremities, a lack of balance, and other issues.
Anemia is a common side-effect of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. It comes with its own symptoms, including a sore mouth, inflamed tongue, weight loss, skin changes, diarrhea or other stomach issues, and menstrual problems.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also affect the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infections. If you notice symptoms such as a runny nose or coughing, consult your doctor.
If you notice any of the signs and symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, there are several tests you can take to get a proper diagnosis. They include blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy. If they confirm a deficiency, it’s time to start correcting it.
Sources of B12
There are several essential vitamins that the body cannot produce on its own, and Vitamin B12 is only one example. Instead, you must obtain it from outside sources.
Getting the amount of Vitamin B12 you need is not difficult. The recommended daily amount is not high, and there are several sources available. The two main types to look for are food and supplements.
A varied diet is one of the best ways to ensure you get all the types of nutrients your body needs to thrive. Knowing which food and drink products provide you with the essential nutrients you need lets you plan your meals.
Vitamin B12 is found in almost all animal-based foods, but some contain a higher percentage of the nutrient than others.
Fish such as shellfish, octopus, mackerel, herring, and tuna are nutrient-dense options. Other types of meat to consider include beef, liver sausage, salami, beef, and venison.
Meat isn’t the only type of animal product that provides high levels of Vitamin B12. Other options include cheese, milk, and eggs.
Fortified foods are an effective option, especially for patients who have chosen a vegetarian diet. Look for cereals, soymilk, and other food and drink fortified with the types of nutrients you need.
There are only some of the food and drink options available for maintaining a healthy diet rich in Vitamin B12. Consider the amounts of each nutrient on each nutrient label for everything you purchase and you’ll be able to create a balanced meal.
Vitamin supplements are an effective option for getting essential nutrients into the body. They’re essential for those at high risk for a deficiency but also worth considering for those who want to keep a close eye on their health.
There are two main types of vitamin B12 supplements. You can take them as an injection or pill.
Vitamin B12 injections provide the most immediate effect. They’re best for severe cases and can provide quick relief from symptoms.
There are also several types of Vitamin B12 medications. You can take a single pill, a multivitamin that contains B12, or whatever option works best for you.
Vitamin B12 supplements are safe and require high doses for patients to experience any ill effects. Despite this, there are potential interactions with other medications to be aware of.
Vitamin B12 supplements can interfere with chloramphenicol, proton pump inhibitors, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, metformin, and other treatments.
Taking supplements doesn’t have to be a lifelong change to your lifestyle, and it’s not the right move for everyone. It can provide quick relief from a range of debilitating symptoms for some patients.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning any vitamin regimen. They’ll help you decide which type to take, what dosage you need, and more.
Where Can I Get Supplements?
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin the body needs to perform several essential processes. One of the most important of these functions is forming red blood cells.
When you notice physical or neurological changes, it may be time to get tested for a Vitamin B12 deficiency. A proper diet full of vitamin-rich foods helps prevent it, but supplements can fill any gaps.