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Vitamin B12 and Your Health

Vitamin B12 is a big player when it comes to our health. It is needed daily for every cell in our body, for metabolism and DNA synthesis. When it comes to our brain function as well as red blood cell functioning, it’s arguably our most important vitamin.

Why do we need vitamin B12?

  • Producing our energy for every cell to work properly in our body. Energy!
  • Healthy regulation of our nervous system. Less depression, less stress, and less dementia as we age.
  • Maintaining a healthy digestive system. Regularity!
  • Protecting against heart disease by regulating cholesterol levels. Less stroke and heart attack risk!
  • Constant renewal of healthy skin, hair, and nails.
  • Protective effect of several cancers including breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer.

Where do we get our B12?

Our food sources of vitamin B12 include dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, and poultry. Plant foods do not naturally have vitamin B12, unless they are synthetically fortified. This form isn’t nearly as absorbable as natural animal sources are.

So B12 isn’t everywhere; you have to eat certain foods. How many people do you know who avoid dairy? Vegetarians? Pescatarians? Vegans?

There are plenty of other reasons to be low in B12 besides not eating enough. We may not make enough gastric acid to help absorption of the vitamin, may not make the intrinsic factor necessary for metabolism of B12, or may have a chronic bowel disease that prevents B12 absorption from what you eat.

Also, many medications can interfere with B12 absorption. This is a long list: birth control, seizure meds, antibiotics, gastric reflux meds, and metformin can all decrease our B12 levels.

Furthermore, lifestyles including heavy alcohol drinking or smoking also puts one at a higher risk for B12 deficiency.

When you consider all of this, it’s easy to see that B12 is one of the top nutrient deficiencies in the world, INCLUDING THE U.S.!  This is not a third world problem.

How do you know you’re low?

A diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is typically based on the measurement of serum vitamin B12 levels within the blood. However, studies show that up to half of people with low vitamin B12 will show normal B12 levels when tested. So our blood levels may not really reflect what’s going on inside of us.

In a study from 2000, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimated that up to 39 percent of our population may suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency.

By the way, our liver stores enough B12 reserves for a couple of years – so true absence of Vitamin B12 is super rare. Yet this doesn’t mean you may not be so low as to benefit from a B12 shot.

Best to consult how you’re feeling!

Considering just how many jobs B12 is involved in, symptoms of low B12 can vary widely. Most commonly, we notice easy fatigue, poor memory, worsening of asthma symptoms, altered bowel movements, and even unexplained loss of appetite and weight loss. Those prone to it may experience increased depression or anxiety. Less common is numbness and tingling in the extremities.

How much do we need?

Luckily we don’t need a large amount of B12 on a daily basis. Adult men and women require 2.4 micrograms; this number is higher if you’re pregnant or nursing.

To inject or not to inject:

Considering how many of us are affected by relatively low levels, many people are considering supplementation, either orally or injectable.

If you are low in B12 because of an absorption issue, then injections are the way to go. Injections lead to quicker boosting of B12 levels compared to oral supplementation, which may take longer to be absorbed. After B12 shots, my patients report feeling more energetic, having more mental clarity, and enjoying a more uplifting mood.

What form?

Cyanocobalamin is the synthetic version, as opposed to methylcobalamin, which is the form of B12 that occurs naturally in the body. Many pharmacies and companies use cyanocobalamin, which is not as bioavailable as methylcobalamin. Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse what version they buy for your injections! Methylcobalamin may cost more, but I think it’s worth it.

Any downside?

Vitamin B12 has a very low risk for toxicity, especially since it’s water soluble and any excess is urinated out of the body. This is key considering that we may not know our levels from our blood work.

This also makes it a safe option to consider different frequencies of injections depending on your symptoms, diet, and lifestyle.

How many readers have tried Vitamin B12 supplementation? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Written by

0phthalmologist & Health Professional