Do You Have a Vitamin B12 Deficiency? A Guide on Functions, Benefits, and Sources
Have you started feeling weak lately? Maybe you’re losing weight, experiencing numbness and tingling, or feeling fatigued. If these symptoms sound familiar, you might need more B12.
You’re not alone. As much as 15% of the general population has a vitamin B12 deficiency.
What exactly is B12? What vitamin B12 foods can you add to your diet? What vitamin B12 side effects do you need to remain aware of?
Keep reading to find out! In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about this wonderous vitamin.
Then, you can start supplementing safely to give your body the vitamins it needs.
Read on to learn more about vitamin B12 today.
What is Vitamin B12?
First, let’s answer the question that’s likely on your mind: what is vitamin B12, exactly?
Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin. It plays a role in:
- Red blood cell formation
- Nerve function
- DNA production
- Cell metabolism
Your body can’t produce B12 on its own. Instead, you need to find vitamin B12 foods, which include many animal products. You can also take B12 as an oral supplement or injection.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 2.4 micrograms a day. However, women who are breastfeeding or pregnant could require more.
You can take a blood test to determine if you’re deficient or require more B12.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Potential signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Poor memory and confusion
- Soreness of the mouth and tongue
- Dizziness or light-headedness
A deficiency could also cause you to develop pale or jaundiced skin. Your body needs B12 to produce red blood cells. Otherwise, your cells could struggle to divide.
This can cause megaloblastic anemia. The blood cells produced in your bone marrow will become fragile. They’ll also become too large to circulate throughout your body.
Your skin could start to look pale as a result.
Since the cells are fragile, you could produce an excess of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a brown- or red-colored substance. It can make your eyes and skin look yellow.
Many patients start to feel weak and fatigued as well.
Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. Without oxygen, you’ll begin to feel weak. You could develop pernicious anemia as a result.
Some patients experience changes in their mobility. A deficiency could change how you walk and move. You might find you’re more prone to falling, too.
This symptom is often seen in undiagnosed, older patients.
Shortness of breath might point to a B12 deficiency as well. Remember, the body needs B12 to transport oxygen. Without oxygen, you could start to feel dizzy or breathless.
Have you noticed changes to your vision? Without B12, you could develop nervous system damage to the optic nerves leading to your eyes. You could develop optic neuropathy, which can cause blurred vision.
Mood changes are common, too. Vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes linked to mood and brain disorders. Patients could experience depression and dementia symptoms.
Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing these symptoms right away.
Certain people are at a higher risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.
As we get older, our stomachs start producing less gastric acid. Without gastric acid, or bodies struggle to absorb the B12 that’s found in foods. Older people are often at a higher risk of deficiency as a result.
In fact, up to 38% of older adults may exhibit mild B12 deficiency.
Older patients can take synthetic B12 (found in supplements and fortified foods) instead. Your body doesn’t need gastric acid to absorb synthetic B12.
Taking certain medications could impact your ability to produce gastric acid, too. Medications that stop gastric acids include medicines for reflux and indigestion, including:
- Histamine-2 receptor agonists (H2RAs) like famotidine and ranitidine
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, and esomeprazole
When you have less stomach acid, the body can’t absorb B12 properly.
Do you have a gastrointestinal disorder? Did you recently undergo gastrointestinal surgery? You might want to talk to your doctor.
Certain medical conditions such as Crohn’s and celiac disease can impact your ability to absorb B12 from food. Surgery could remove part of your stomach, impacting absorption as well.
You’re also at risk if you follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet. Remember, vitamin B12 is found in many animal products, including meat, fish, egg, and dairy. Vegans and vegetarians are sometimes at a higher risk of a deficiency as a result.
Eating fortified foods like soy milk and breakfast cereals could reduce the risk.
Health Benefits of B12
How does vitamin B12 support our daily function? Here are a few vitamin B12 benefits to consider.
Remember, vitamin B12 helps the body produce red blood cells. B12 ensures your cells are round and small. When they’re too large, you could develop megaloblastic anemia.
Preventing Major Birth Defects
B12 might help prevent major birth defects as well. The fetus’ brain and nervous system require B12 to develop properly. The fetus receives B12 from its mother.
Without B12 during the beginning stages of pregnancy, the risk of birth defects could increase. A deficiency might contribute to premature birth or miscarriage as well.
Supplementing with B12 could support your bone health, too. B12 could help you maintain normal bone mineral density. Low bone mineral density could cause your bones to become fragile and delicate.
Your risk of osteoporosis could increase as a result.
Reducing the Risk of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is an eye disease. You could prevent your risk by maintaining adequate B12 levels. B12 might also lower homocysteine.
Homocysteine is an amino acid found throughout your bloodstream. When levels are elevated, it could increase your risk of age-related macular degeneration. B12, B6, and folic acid could reduce your risk.
In this study, the risk of developing macular degeneration was 24% lower for patients who took B12.
Improve Your Mood
Taking vitamin B12 might help improve your mood, too.
B12 plays a role in metabolizing and synthesizing serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate your mood. Without B12, you might experience lower serotonin levels.
B12 could support treatment for major depressive disorder. It could reduce your risk of severe depression, too.
Unfortunately, we don’t fully understand the effect B12 has on mood yet.
Preventing Neuron Loss
A B12 deficiency could have a connection to brain loss, too. B12 might prevent brain atrophy, which is a loss of neurons. Losing neurons in the brain is associated with dementia and memory loss.
B12 could help support your memory and cognitive function. More research is needed, though.
Boosting Energy Levels
Many people turn to B12 to boost their energy levels. All B vitamins play a role in your body’s energy production. However, there’s no scientific evidence to indicate B12 can boost energy levels.
Rather, it helps patients who are B12 deficient. Remember, one of the early signs of B12 deficiency is fatigue.
There’s currently no evidence that B12 supplements could make you a better athlete.
Supporting Heart Health
Homocysteine could increase your risk of heart disease. Without B12, your homocysteine levels can increase. Vitamin B12 could decrease your homocysteine levels to reduce your risk of heart disease.
However, more research is needed to confirm this effect.
Vitamin B12 Foods
Remember, your body can’t produce vitamin B12 on its own. Instead, you’ll need supplements or vitamin B12 foods to avoid a deficiency.
You can find vitamin B12 in foods like:
- Organ meats (liver and kidneys)
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified nutritional yeast
- Milk and dairy products
- Fortified non-dairy milk (soy, almond, rice)
- Chicken breast
- Some meat substitutes
- Some energy bars
You can work with a doctor or nutritionist to make sure you’re getting enough B12 from your diet.
Vitamin B12 Side Effects
Before you start adding B12 to your routine, make sure to speak with a doctor. You don’t want to take too much vitamin B12. Otherwise, you might experience side effects.
Common vitamin B12 side effects include:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tingling sensations in the hands and feet
Vitamin B12 supplements are safe to take at appropriate doses. Make sure not to exceed the recommended daily amount.
Your body will only absorb as much B12 as it needs. The rest will pass through your urine.
It’s also important to avoid taking vitamin B12 with certain medications. You could experience an interaction if you take B12 with:
- Aminosalicylic acid (Paser)
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplements
- Proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Prevacid, etc.)
- Metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, etc.)
- Colchicine (Gloperba, Mitigare, Colcrys, etc.)
Speak with your doctor if you’re taking any of these medications. They might recommend you change medications or time your doses appropriately.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency: You’re Guide to Boosting B12 Safely
Don’t let a vitamin B12 deficiency slow you down. Instead, keep an eye out for these signs of a deficiency. In the meantime, make sure to get enough B12 in your diet.
Make sure to consult a doctor before adding B12 to your daily routine.
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