Vitamin B12: Sources, Uses, and Benefits
Vitamin B12 is one of the essential vitamins our body needs to stay healthy. It is important to DNA creation, nerve cell maintenance, brain function, a healthy metabolism, and so much more. Normal Vitamin B12 levels can support the normal functioning of adrenal glands – when a person suffers from B12 deficiency, they may experience fatigue and metabolic problems. Vitamin B12 also helps support enzyme production, hormonal balance, and DNA synthesis – in such way, maintaining the health of cardiovascular and nervous systems.
According to the Dietary Office of the National Institute of Health (NIH), about 15% of Americans have a moderate-to-severe Vitamin B12 deficiency. A popular 2000 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that 39% of the global population suffers from low Vitamin B12 levels.
Do you feel fatigued often? Do you have a poor appetite or have you lost weight recently for no apparent reason? Do you feel palpitations or a rapid heartbeat? These are symptoms of a B12 deficiency and if left untreated can cause irreversible damage to nerve cells which could lead to loss of motor skills, weakness, and even dementia. How can you ensure that you’re not one of those suffering from a B12 deficiency? Read on to learn more about ways to identify if you’re getting enough B12. If you think you may be deficient, or have further questions, contact your health care provider.
How can you detect a Vitamin B12 deficiency?
A Vitamin B12 deficiency is difficult to detect but can still be spotted through an extreme, unexplained fatigue and an inability to focus. The testing of Vitamin B12 levels is commonly based on measuring B12 serum levels in the bloodstream. The WebMD team notes that some common symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency are:
- Chronic fatigue;
- Muscle and joint pains;
- Weak joints and muscles;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Bad memory;
- Mood changes revealed through depression or anxiety;
- Abnormal heart problems, including palpitations;
- Poor dental health, like mouth sores and bleeding gums;
- Digestive disorders like diarrhea, cramps, and nausea;
- A lack of appetite.
If left untreated, low B12 levels may trigger a serious form of anemia called pernicious anemia. This form of anemia can lead to long-term dementia and complete memory loss.
Who is at the highest risk of getting a Vitamin B12 deficiency? According to NIH studies, elderly people are more prone to having impaired digestion and less stomach acid that converts Vitamin B12.
Most primary sources of Vitamin B12 come from animal food sources like meats, eggs, dairy, and shellfish. That is why people who follow a vegan diet, without eating any animal products, are at a higher risk to have a B12 deficiency as well. In their case, it is essential to add oral Vitamin B supplements to their daily vitamin routine.
Smokers (because nicotine may block the absorption of Vitamin B12 supplements and foods), alcohol addicts, people with anemia, and individuals with a digestive disorder like Crohn’s or celiac disease are also in higher risk groups for having a B12 deficiency.
Recommended Vitamin B12 dosage
In order to prevent a Vitamin B12 deficiency, the NIH experts advise following the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for this essential vitamin:
- Adult men and women and teenagers over 14 years – 2.4 micrograms;
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women – 2.6 – 2.8 micrograms;
- People over 50 years – 25-50 milligrams.
What are the best Vitamin B12 sources?
The Mayo Clinic experts mention that the best animal products to include in your diet are cage-free eggs, grass-fed dairy and meats, wild-caught fish, organic poultry. These are the best Vitamin B12 foods. The NIH team adds that eating plant foods doesn’t contribute to your recommended intake of Vitamin B12. Only fortified grains, nutritional yeast, and algae sea veggies have a bit of Vitamin B12.
These are the top Vitamin B12 food sources according to the NIH (with the percentage based on the RDA of 2.4 milligrams for adults):
- Chicken and beef liver – 3 ounces contain 81 milligrams of Vitamin B12 (3,375% RDA);
- Salmon — 108 grams contain19.5 milligrams (about 812% RDA);
- Herring —143 grams contain 18.7 milligrams (779% RDA);
- Mackerel — 3 ounces contain 15.3 milligrams (637% RDA);
- Sardines — 1 cup contains 13.3 milligrams (554% RDA);
- Tuna — 3 ounces contain 9.3 milligrams (385% RDA);
- Trout — 1 filet contains 9.1 milligrams (379% RDA);
- Organic plain Greek yogurt —170 grams contain 1.3 mg (53% RDA);
- Turkey — 3 ounces contain 1.1 milligrams (43% RDA);
- Raw milk — 1 cup contain1 milligram (41% RDA).
How should you take Vitamin B12?
You need to replenish your body’s supply of Vitamin B12 daily in order to get enough of this vitamin for normal functioning. This happens because all B-vitamins are water-soluble and can be flushed out of the body quickly.
You may get this vitamin in multiple forms:
- Oral Vitamin B12 supplement (the recommended daily dose is 25 milligrams);
- Vitamin B12 sublingual tablets that dissolve in the mouth;
- Intravenous Vitamin B12 shots for people who can’t consume foods or supplements on their own;
- As a liquid – you may take a few drops per day;
- Oral sprays for people who have troubles with absorbing Vitamin B12 from the stomach.
Essential Vitamin B12 benefits
It is hard to enumerate all of the benefits of Vitamin B12 foods and supplements because this vitamin contributes to many body organs and systems which promote overall health. According to WebMD, the most important reasons to take enough Vitamin B12 are:
- High energy levels and reduced fatigue;
- Protecting your heart from elevated homocysteine levels;
- Can increase your mood and protect from anxiety or depression;
- Preventing memory loss and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia;
- Increasing the growth of healthy bacteria within the gut environment to aid digestion and preventing inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and Candida;
- Results in healthy skin, hair, and nails;
- May be beneficial for cancer prevention, including prostate, colon, and cervical cancers;
- Can produce healthy levels of red blood cells and prevent megaloblastic anemia;
- Pregnant women need Vitamin B12 because it helps create and regulate basic genetic materials – nucleic acid and DNA. Vitamin B12 may also decrease the risks of certain birth defects.
Possible risks and interactions of Vitamin B12
According to the Mayo Clinic experts, Vitamin B12 absorption may be blocked or slowed down because of these factors:
- Heavy smokers won’t see much benefit even from the best b12 supplement;
- The long-term antibiotic use may block absorption;
- The use of stomach-acid controlling drugs;
- Potassium supplements (however, foods containing potassium don’t interact with the absorption of Vitamin B12).
In general, all Vitamin B12 supplements are considered non-toxic and safe to take. This vitamin is essential for many of your body functions. If you are worried you may be deficient in Vitamin B12, talk to your health care provider.