Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient important for our overall health. It has a number of functions in our body including
- DNA production
- Red Blood Cells
- Nerve repair
Since B12 isn’t made in our bodies, it is important we obtain it from animal-based foods, or supplements on a regular basis. Vitamin B12 can’t be stored.
What causes deficiency?
Most of us get enough of this nutrient, but if you think your B12 levels are lower than they should be, you can ask your doctor if you should get a blood test to check.
There are certain factors that can make people more pre-disposed to deficiency.
With age, it can become harder to absorb this vitamin. This can also be the case if you have had weight loss surgery or another operation that removed part of your stomach, or if you drink heavily.
You may also be more likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiency if you have:
- Atrophic gastritis, which can cause thinning of the stomach lining
- Pernicious anaemia, which reduces B12 absorption
- Certain conditions affecting the small intestine, for example: Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, bacterial growth or parasite
- Immune system disorders, such as Graves’ disease or Lupus
- Taking certain medications that interfere with B12 absorption (including heartburn medication such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for example: esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix), rabeprazole (Aciphex). Also, H2 Blockers for example cimetidine and famotidine and certain diabetes medications such as metformin
- Following a vegan diet, which excludes animal products including meat, milk, cheese and eggs and dairy, can also mean you are at greater risk of deficiency
In all of these cases, you can add fortified foods to your diet or take supplements to meet this need.
Symptoms of deficiency
B12 deficiency can sometimes cause anaemia. Mild deficiency may cause no symptoms, but if untreated it may lead to:
- Weakness, tiredness or light headedness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Smooth tongue
- Constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, flatulence
- Nerve problems such as numbness or tingling, muscle weakness and problems walking
- Vision loss
- Mental problems, such as depression, memory loss or behavioural changes.
Sources of vitamin B12
If you have pernicious anaemia or have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, you may initially need injections. You may need to keep receive these injections regularly or you may be able to take high doses of a supplement by mouth, or get it nasally after that.
If you don’t eat animal products, you have options. You can change your diet to include vitamin B12-fortified grains, a supplement or B12 injections, or a high-dose oral vitamin B12 if you are deficient.
Older adults who have a vitamin B12 deficiency will likely have to take a daily B12 supplement or a multivitamin that contains B12.
For most people, treatment resolves the problem. But, any nerve caused by the deficiency could be permanent.
Most people can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency by eating enough meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.
If you don’t eat animal products, or you have a medical condition that limits how well your body absorbs nutrients, you can take vitamin B12 in a multivitamin or other supplement and foods fortified with vitamin B12.
If you do choose to take vitamin B12 supplements, speak to your doctor, so they can tell you how much you need, or make sure they won’t affect any medicines you’re taking.
Whilst I eat a healthy, balanced diet, since my surgery I have been taking B12 supplements to improve energy levels and also to aid recovery and repair to the nerves damaged by my brain tumour and subsequent surgery. I take Solgar Vitamin B12 1000 µg Sublingual Chewable Nuggets. They are small and have a really pleasant taste.
Remember, wherever possible, it’s important that we do not not let supplementation replace a healthy lifestyle and diet but instead use it to assist in maintaining healthy levels of nutrients. If you have any concerns regarding any aspect of your health, please seek medical advice from your health care professional.