Though many of us often feel tired simply from the fast pace and many demands of life, when the issue extends beyond what seems logical, it’s time to search a little deeper. According to research from Tufts University, up to 40% of people in the US may be deficient/lacking in vitamin B12. This nutrient is vitally important to the inner workings of your brain, nerves, nervous system, blood cells, and DNA. (1)
Since we cannot make vitamin B12 ourselves, we must get it from our diets. This immediately becomes a problem for vegans and vegetarians, as most of the best B12 food choices are animal-based. Another group of people that’s particularly at risk for deficiency are those who have trouble absorbing the nutrient, even if they get enough of it in their diet. The elderly sometimes fall into this category.
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Let’s go into depth on some of the symptoms you may experience if you’re lacking in this essential nutrient: (2)
There’s a reason they call vitamin B12 the energy vitamin! It helps turn the food you eat into useable energy. Therefore, it’s directly involved in your body’s natural energy production. It also helps prevent a type of anemia that can make you tired and weak. (3)
Because vitamin B12 plays a key role in brain function and something called myelin production, a lack of the nutrient can potentially leave you feeling weepy and sad. In some people, a halt in myelin production can look like depression. Plus, B12 also regulates your levels of the feel-good hormone, dopamine. So, a deficiency could leave you moody.
In one stunning and heartbreaking study, a woman with years of symptoms leading to psychiatric care, eventually found that she was suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. And this isn’t the only case, as this underlying deficiency can lay dormant until it’s finally shown to be the culprit of troubling symptoms.
Having confusion is another unfortunate effect of low vitamin B12 levels that shows this deficiency is no joke! Myelin, which we spoke about earlier, also coats the nerve cells in your brain. And since you need B12 to make myelin, lacking it can actually make you quite forgetful. It can even get so bad that the deficiency symptoms start to look like dementia.
A lessening of myelin can also affect your ability to locate “where you are in space”. So you can lose your balance more easily, and have a tendency to fall. This is especially dangerous for the elderly.
Dangerously low B12 in your body can present itself in unique ways in different people. Some other potential negative effects of being low in the nutrient include:
The truth is, you may not actually be deficient in vitamin B12, but you may be dangerously close and not even know it. The only way to know for sure is to go to your doctor and get a blood test. It’s a great idea to do a full nutrient panel test, simply because many vitamins and minerals work together and depend upon each other to complete their functions in your body.
If you find out you’re deficient in vitamin B12 or low in it, (or even if you aren’t), it’s a great idea to start taking preventative steps to get ahead of a deficiency.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) a day.
However, your body stores any excess vitamin B12 that it doesn’t use immediately in the liver. Therefore, if you consume more than the RDI each day, your body actually saves it for future use.
One of the best ways to ensure adequate vitamin B12 levels is to eat foods that are rich in the nutrient. If you’re vegan/vegetarian, there are some non-animal foods that are fortified with the vitamin, so you should definitely add those to your diet. (4)
*RDI (Recommended Daily Value) of B12 for each
*In order from greatest RDI to least
If you know you don’t eat many of the richest sources of dietary Vitamin B12, shown above, your next best option is to take a high-quality supplement. Remember that it’s also possible that your body may not be absorbing the nutrient properly. So if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a deficiency, a supplement is also for you.
Although everyone may benefit from taking a vitamin B12 supplement, some groups are particularly vulnerable to deficiency. These include…
Vegans/vegetarians – This group needs to eat B12-fortified foods or take a supplement.
Seniors – Vitamin B12 deficiency affects 10 – 15% of people over age 60. This is because older adults often have problems with the acids and stomach enzymes needed to absorb and process vitamin B12. (5)
Women on birth control – It turns out that birth control pills (used by more than 10 million women in the US alone), may deplete your body of some nutrients. This includes vitamin B12. Since many women use birth control for the duration, the effects of this over time can add up significantly.
Pregnant/Breastfeeding women – When a woman is pregnant, many of the nutrients she consumes will go to her developing baby. And later if she is breastfeeding, she will also need additional vitamin B12 supplementation (beyond what she gets in her diet) to make sure both her and baby get enough. Therefore, it’s recommended that women take a good pre-natal vitamin both during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Those who have had weight loss surgery – People who’ve had their stomach stapled (or another type of weight control surgery), may have less ability to extract and absorb vitamin B12 from the foods they eat. (6)
If you think you may be deficient or lacking in vitamin B12, your best route of action is to take a supplement. Here’s what you should look for…
In addition, instead of a straight B12 supplement, you can take a high-quality multivitamin with a good amount of vitamin B12. And finally, some of the best meal replacement shakes contain added nutrients to help you reach daily levels.
Don’t let yourself become fall victim to a vitamin B12 deficiency when there are so many ways to get this vital nutrient. It’s all about being proactive and realizing how important this vitamin (along with many other nutrients) are to your body’s optimal functioning. Stay on top of all your nutrient levels, including your B12 levels today, for increased wellness and vitality.