Commonly referred to as the energy booster, Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins. While extreme tiredness and lethargy are indeed linked to a deficiency in this crucial vitamin, many other symptoms — including cognitive impairment, depression, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, anemia, difficulty concentrating and heart palpitations — are also connected to low levels of vitamin B12.
Why You Need It
Vitamin B12 is important for the development of DNA as well as maintaining brain and nerve health and the production of red blood cells. Without sufficient red blood cells, your body’s tissues and organs don’t receive enough oxygen for your body to function properly. Chronic deficiency can damage the nervous system and has been linked to increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
Recent research from the British Journal of Nutrition also links low vitamin B12 status with depressive symptoms in people 50 and older.
How to Tell if You’re Deficient in Vitamin B12
While people can develop a B12 deficiency at any age, the incidence increases with age because absorption of vitamin B12 becomes less efficient. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 20 percent of people over 60 are in this nutrient.
Because symptoms can be variable and vague, they may go undiagnosed for years, so monitoring your levels through annual blood panel testing is important.
Meeting Your Vitamin B12 Requirements
Like most vitamins, B12 can’t be produced by the body, but is obtained through food or supplements. The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms.
Most of us can get this amount through a healthy diet that includes meat, eggs and dairy products. B12 can also be found in some plant-based foods such as fortified cereals and plant-based milks. Since B12 is most commonly found in meat, eggs and dairy, vegans are often recommended to supplement. Other factors such as alcohol and drug abuse, digestive tract conditions such as celiac disease, and taking certain medications such as blood sugar-lowering metformin can inhibit the absorption of vitamin B12.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can be corrected with oral B12 supplementation, B12 injections, or through a vitamin IV, which can be especially helpful for individuals with absorption issues. Check with your health care provider prior to supplementation to ensure you are taking the appropriate amount for optimal health. Then, continue to monitor to ensure your supplementation is being properly absorbed by your body.