Not many (if any) people think about their vitamin B12 levels on a regular basis. However, there are significant health risks associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency, including depression, paranoia, delusions, memory loss and incontinence, among others. To make matters worse, a B12 deficiency is quite sneaky. You may not even realize you have it until you’re very sick.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common in vegetarians and individuals who’ve had weight-loss surgery. However, anyone can develop the condition. The symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, such as weakness, fatigue and numbness, may sneak up and can mimic other health conditions. Therefore, it’s vital to seek help early on or just have those levels checked regularly. Let's look at the science.
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that affects every cell in the body. It helps replicate DNA during cell production, keeps the body’s nerves and blood cells healthy, helps prevent anemia, birth defects, osteoporosis and macular degeneration. Additionally, it can improve mood and cognition. It helps prevent heart disease and supports healthy hair, skin and nails. It may even provide us with energy.
In most cases, people get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat. However, as much as 15% of the population may have a deficiency. Those most commonly affected are older adults, those with pernicious anemia, people who’ve had gastrointestinal surgery and vegetarians/vegans who do not use nutritional yeast or other sources.
The symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency appear slowly and gradually worsen with time. This is why it often goes undetected and may be misdiagnosed as other conditions. Symptoms include:
These symptoms usually become more bothersome over time. However, they may not be severe enough to realize that something is really wrong. Therefore, it’s important to monitor closely and get routine blood work. We should all be mindful as well and inform a doctor of any symptoms, even if they’re mild.
Those who suspect that they have a deficiency should contact a doctor to confirm. But in some cases they may want to also take steps to boost B12 on their own. They can take strides to consume the recommended daily value of vitamin B12, which is 2.4 micrograms for both men and women. Those who are pregnant or lactating may need a bit more.
So, which foods contain vitamin B12? It's found in animal products, including meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products, sure, but also, and maybe more healthfully, in many cereals, in nutritional yeast, and fortified foods such as orange juice.
Fortunately, the foods that are sources of B12 contain a lot of it. For example, a serving of tuna fish has all the vitamin B12 most need for the day. For this reason, it’s very easy to get the amount needed from food alone. Those who don’t eat meat or dairy can get vitamin B12 in supplement form.
While scary, a vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly easy to correct. In most cases, it can be managed with dietary changes and vitamin supplements. However, injections are sometimes needed but are readily available through a physician. As always, though, the first key, the first step, is to go check it out.