Our busy schedules often make fatigue, brain fog and depression seem like common every-day problems. However, having these symptoms shouldn’t go unnoticed. Although there can be various reasons people feel tired or depressed, there is a chance it could be because of a lack of vitamin B12.
B12 deficiency can be caused by age, digestive problems, and by not eating enough foods rich in B12. But there are many other reasons B12 can be deficient in your body, ranging from the medications you take to diagnosed conditions and diseases. For example, people with endocrine-related autoimmune disorders, like diabetes or thyroid disease, may have a bigger risk of developing a particular type of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimates that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have a seriously low B12 level, and up to 20% may have a borderline deficiency. Nearly one-third of people over 50 years old suffer from atrophic gastritis, a thinning of the stomach lining that interferes with vitamin B12 absorption.
What is B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps support adrenal function, helps maintain a healthy nervous system, is necessary for vital metabolic processes, and is essential to DNA synthesis.
B12 plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the brain (cognitive health), nervous system, and in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps to regulate and synthesize DNA. Every minute, our bodies produce millions of red blood cells, and without vitamin B12, the cells cannot multiply correctly. The production of red blood cells goes down if vitamin B12 levels are too low, and as red blood cell counts drop becoming anemic becomes more likely.
Your body does not make vitamin B12 on its own, so the only way to get it regularly is from foods, B12 supplements or a B12 injection. Vitamin B12 is also referred to by other names like B-Complex, Hydroxocobalamin, and Vitadurine, to name a few. You can check out the entire list here.
B12 Deficiency Symptoms
B12 deficiency can sometimes develop slowly, making symptoms gradual and can intensify over time, but it can also come on relatively quickly. Because of the many symptoms it can cause, the condition may be ignored or confused with symptoms for something else.
- difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
- strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in extremity’s (hands, feet, legs)
- difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- swollen, inflamed tongue
- yellowed skin (jaundice)
- paranoia or hallucinations
Psychological conditions like dementia, paranoia, and behavioral changes can result from a vitamin B12 deficiency if left untreated. If you feel you may be vitamin B12 deficient, seek your Doctors guidance for next steps, testing, and monitoring.
Get Your B12 Back on Track
Vitamin B12 does not typically occur in plant foods, making it more difficult for vegetarians to get B12 as part of their regular diets. Foods that are good sources of B12 include beef, pork, ham, poultry, lamb, fish (especially haddock and tuna), milk, cheese, yogurt, some nutritional yeast products, and eggs.
The average adult should get about 2.4 micrograms a day. And because your body can only absorb about 10 mcg per day and it will naturally expel it through urine if it doesn’t need it or you have too much.
It’s debated if taken at high doses vitamin B12 is completely harmless; however, consumers don’t have much choice as most over-the-counter supplements are sold at 1,000 mcg to 1,500 mcg (or more, and depending on the type of B12 you are taking). Excessive intake of vitamin B12 has not proven to be toxic, but people are always advised to speak with their physician before starting any new supplements.
Before purchasing a B12 supplement, make sure you understand which ones are the best ones to take, because they are not all created equal.
The most common B12’s are made with cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, or hydroxocobalamin. You can buy cyanocobalamin tablets over-the-counter in lower doses but will need a prescription to get higher doses, which come in sprays or a liquid form.
Methylcobalamin is the form of vitamin B12 that is the easiest for the body to use. You don’t need a prescription to buy methylcobalamin, but it can be harder to find and more pricey than the other forms. If you’re going to purchase something over-the-counter, this form of B12 comes more highly recommended than those made with cyanocobalamin.
Another form of B12, only available by prescription and used as an injection is Hydroxycobalamin, which is the form of vitamin B12 that the “good” or “healthy” bacteria in your gut make on their own.
If you believe you are suffering from a lack of vitamin B12, consult with your doctor to begin your journey and next steps to feeling better.