Vitamin B-12 is one of the vitamins that are together referred to as B-complex vitamins. B6 is a hard-working vitamin that affects everything from mood, appetite to skin condition. It is very vital for maintaining the health of the body. Vitamin B12 does a lot of things for your body. For instance, it helps the cells to make DNA and red blood cells.
The body does not make vitamin B12, and so it has to source it from animal-based foods or from supplements. Also it should be noted that the body does not store vitamin B-12 for a long time. For this reason, you need to regularly ‘refresh’ the body’s supply of vitamin B-12.
How much vitamin B-12 do you need?
The answer depends on things including age, eating habits and medical conditions, and what medications the person is taking. The average recommended amounts measured in micrograms (mcg), vary by age: infants up to age 6 months: 0.4 mcg; babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg; children age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg; kids age 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg; children age 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg; teens age 14-18: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding); adults: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding).
Food sources of vitamin B12
You can get vitamin B12 in animal foods, which have it naturally, or from items that have been fortified with it. Animal sources include dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry. If you’re looking for a food fortified with B12, check the nutrition facts label on processed food products.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Most people get enough of this nutrient. If you’re not sure, you can ask your doctor if you should get a blood test to check your vitamin B12 level.
With age, it can become harder to absorb this vitamin. It can also happen 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:
1. Atrophic gastritis, in which the stomach lining has thinned;
2. Pernicious anemia, which makes it hard for the body to absorb vitamin B12;
3. Conditions that affect the small intestine, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite;
4. Immune system disorders, such as Graves’ disease or lupus
5. Prolonged use of certain medications that interfere with the absorption of B12. This includes some heartburn medicines including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as rabeprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole and pantoprazole; H2 Blockers such as cimetidine, famotidine and ranitidine; and certain diabetes medicines such as metformin.
You can also get vitamin B12 deficiency if you follow a vegan diet (meaning you don’t eat any animal products, including meat, milk, cheese, and eggs) or you are a vegetarian who doesn’t eat enough eggs or dairy products to meet your vitamin B12 needs. In both of those cases, you can add fortified foods to your diet or take supplements to meet this need.
Are you pregnant or a new mother?
Are you a pregnant woman on a vegan or vegetarian diet, and plan to only breastfeed your baby? You should talk to your doctor before you have your baby, so that you have a plan in place for how you’ll get enough vitamin B12 to keep your baby healthy.
Without enough vitamin B12, your baby could have developmental delays and not thrive and grow like he should.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
If you have vitamin B12 deficiency, you could become anemic. A mild deficiency may cause no symptoms. But if untreated, it may lead to symptoms such as:
a. Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
b. Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
c. Pale skin
d. A smooth tongue
e. Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
f. Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
g. Vision loss
h. Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes
If you have pernicious anemia or have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, you’ll need shots of this vitamin at first. You may need to keep getting these shots, take high doses of a supplement by mouth, or get it nasally after that.
Signs you’re low on vitamin B12
Do your hands, feet, or legs feel like they’re on “pins and needles”? Shortage of B12 can damage the protective sheath that covers your nerves. Diseases like celiac, Crohn’s, or other gut illnesses may make it harder for your body to absorb the vitamin. So can taking some heartburn drugs.
You’re colder than usual
Without enough B12, you might not have enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen around your body (anemia). That can leave you shivering and cold, especially in your hands and feet.
A lack of B12 may lead to depression, confusion, memory problems, and dementia. It also can affect your balance. B12 supplements are usually safe. For adults, doctors recommend 2.4 micrograms a day. If you take more than what you need, your body passes the rest out through your pee. Still, high doses could have some side effects, like dizziness, headache, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.
Your muscles may lack strength. You also might feel tired or lightheaded. Your doctor can check how much B12 is in your body, but not all of it may be useable. So it’s important to pay attention to any symptoms, which can grow slowly or pop up more quickly — and to alert your doctor.
Your doctor might call it atrophic glossitis. Tiny bumps on your tongue called papillae start to waste away. That makes it look and feel kind of smooth and glossy. Infections, medication, and other conditions can cause it, too. But if not enough B12 or other nutrients is to blame, your tongue also may be sore.
B12 deficiency is rare because your body can store several years’ supply of the stuff. But plants don’t have any B12. So vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat any animal products should add some processed grains like fortified breads, crackers, and cereals.
This is when your heart suddenly races or skips a beat. You might feel it in your throat or neck. You can get more vitamin B12 from chicken, eggs, and fish. But one of best sources by far is something that may not be a regular on your menu: beef liver.
As you get older, your body may not absorb B12 as easily. If you don’t treat it, low levels of B12 could lead to anemia, nerve damage, moodiness, and other serious problems. So watch for any symptoms, and get a blood test if your doctor recommends it.
Reason for Shortage: Weight Surgery
One of the more common weight loss operations is called “gastric bypass.” After the surgery, food bypasses parts of your stomach and small intestine. That’s usually where B12 breaks down into usable form. Your doctor likely will monitor your B12 levels and suggest supplements or shots if you need them.
You may get these ulcers on your gums or tongue. They could be a sign of low B12, anemia, or another condition. The sores usually clear up on their own, but it helps to avoid ingredients that might be irritating or painful, like vinegar, citrus, and hot spices like chili powder. Some over-the-counter medicines could soothe your pain.
Some drugs drop your B12 levels or make it harder for your body to use the vitamin. They include:
a. Chloramphenicol (Chloromycetin), an antibiotic used to treat infection
b. Proton pump inhibitors like lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec)
c. Peptic ulcer medications like cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac) and metformin for diabetes.
You might lose your appetite, drop too much weight, or have trouble passing stool (constipation). If your B12 levels are low, your doctor will often inject it into a muscle to be sure your body absorbs it. Sometimes, high doses of pills work just as well. But remember that symptoms of B12 deficiency can be similar to signs of many other illnesses.
Caution for pregnant vegetarians
Talk to your doctor about B12 supplements, both during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Infants who don’t get enough could have serious and permanent damage to their nerves or brain cells. Your baby might need supplements, too.
►Adapted from webmd.com