Vitamin B12 is having a moment. It's in your favorite energy drink and cereal and has been touted as a fountain of youth by some. It's supposed to make you feel better and look better.
But how do you know if you're deficient? Can taking extra vitamin B12 help you?
What Vitamin B12 Does
Vitamin B12 is a member of the vitamin B complex, which consists of eight different vitamins. The first thing vitamin B12 does, along with the rest of the B vitamins, is support cognitive health as well as the proper function of the entire central nervous system. Next, vitamin B12 supports healthy red blood cells as well as the production of DNA. Vitamin B12 is also needed for energy production and supports healthy tissues like the hair, skin and nails, keeping them strong.
What Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Becoming deficient in vitamin B12 can have some serious side effects if not treated. However, it isn't incredibly common. Here are the symptoms to look out for:
Loss of balance
Poor memory and focus
Numbness in the hands and/or feet
Your doctor can determine if you're deficient in vitamin B12 with a simple blood test.
Who Is at Risk for Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in order to get vitamin B12 from food, the body first needs hydrochloric acid, present in the stomach, to separate it from the proteins within the food. Next, it must be bound to a protein produced within the body called the intrinsic factor. As previously mentioned, most people get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat (more on those foods in a bit). However, certain medical conditions and physical changes associated with age can impact how much vitamin B12 is absorbed.
First of all, anyone with low amounts of hydrochloric acid in their stomachs may be deficient in B12. Next, those with digestive conditions that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease which damage the intestinal lining, may also be deficient. Lastly, women who breastfeed can become low in vitamin B12.
Now, back to diet. Vitamin B12 is present in animal products due to the foods they eat and how they're broken down by their digestive systems. According to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these foods, due to the soil they grow in, contain certain bacteria that help animals create vitamin B12. This is why foods like beef and eggs are considered good sources vitamin B12, but no plant or animal contains vitamin B12 on its own without the presence of the bacteria. These bacteria can be added to certain foods, like cereals or dairy products to fortify them as a source for those who don't eat meat. Another vegetarian source of vitamin B12 is nutritional yeast, which is a common cheese replacement.
Traditionally, vegetarians and vegans have been cautioned about vitamin B12 deficiency, but eating a well balanced diet that includes these fortified foods should prevent it. Certain fruit and vegetable peels may also be a source of B12 due to this bacteria, along with other vital nutrients. Avoiding peeling fruits and vegetables before eating can help you benefit from these nutrients.
How Much Vitamin B12 You Need
Medical factors aside, the amount of vitamin B12 you need depends on age and gender. Adults typically need 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding will need between 2.6 and 2.8 mcg. You can find vitamin B12 in most multivitamin supplements and on its own at varying strengths.
The important thing to note about is that it's a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it isn't stored within the fat of the body. This means there is a very low risk of toxicity from taking higher amounts of vitamin B12, because the body excretes what it doesn't need through the urine. This is why taking a super dosage of vitamin B12 may benefit those who are very deficient, but has little to no effect on those who are already getting what they need. Talking to your doctor can help you determine how much vitamin B12 your body requires.
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