Do you experience low energy, irritability, mood imbalance, feeling sluggish-especially in the afternoon, forgetfulness, light-headedness or brain fog? If so, your body may be low in vitamin B12 levels, and you’ll need to boost it.
Your body craves B12 to keep your nerves and cells healthy. B12 deficiency, also known as cobalamin deficiency, is as much associated with bad absorption as it is with low intake of the vitamin itself.
Today, we look at the warning signs your body is deficient in B12. We also look at what causes low levels of B12, and how to get optimal levels of this nutrient.
As always, this video is educational and does not constitute medical advice; we are not doctors.
So, how can you tell if you’re deficient in B12?
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest in these ways:
Number 11. “Tingling hands or feet”.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause “pins and needles” in the peripheral nerves of the hands or feet.
Number 10. “Trouble walking”.
Over time, peripheral nerve damage resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency can cause numbness in the feet and limbs, making it hard for a person to walk without support.
Number 9. “Pale skin”.
Pale or yellow skin, called jaundice, may be a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Jaundice develops when a person’s body cannot produce enough red blood cells, causing megaloblastic anemia.
Number 8. “Fatigue”.
Megaloblastic anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to a person feeling fatigued because there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around their body.
Number 7. “Fast heart rate”.
A fast heart rate may be a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The heart may start to beat faster to make up for the reduced number of red blood cells in the body.
Number 6. “Shortness of breath”.
Anemia that results from vitamin B12 deficiency may cause a person to feel short of breath, because of a lack of red blood cells and a fast heartbeat.
Number 5. “Mouth pain”.
Deficiency in vitamin B12 may cause a swollen, smooth, red tongue, mouth ulcers, or a burning sensation in the mouth.
This is due to a reduction in red blood cell production, which results in less oxygen reaching the tongue.
Number 4. “Thinking or reasoning problems”.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause difficulty in thinking or reasoning, and memory loss, because of less oxygen reaching the brain.
Number 3. “Irritability”.
Being deficient in vitamin B12 can affect a person’s mood, and may cause irritability or depression.
Number 2. “Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea”.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to a person both feeling and being sick, and cause diarrhea because of insufficient oxygen.
Number 1. “Decreased appetite and weight loss”.
As a result of digestive issues, such as nausea, people with vitamin B12 deficiency may lose their appetite, leading to weight loss.
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
A severe deficiency in Vitamin B12 can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
Conversely, when you get enough vitamin B12, and absorb it well, it has been shown to:
help maintain energy levels, support better mood, support healthy heart function, support healthy thick hair and clear skin, aid in digestion by fostering a healthy environment for gut-friendly bacteria, and boost the ability to think, learn, and remember.
Next, Let’s talk about the important role vitamin B12 plays in the body.
The human body needs B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, and DNA.
Vitamin B12 regulates hormone production and supports a healthy immune system.
It’s important for the functioning of the digestive, circulatory, and reproductive systems.
Vitamin B12 is also needed to convert carbohydrates into fuel that the body can use, and metabolize fats and proteins.
So, getting enough B12 can help you feel more energetic and have a better overall sense of well-being. The average adult should get 2.4 mcg a day.
Next, what causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
The most common cause of B12 deficiency is inadequate absorption. Here is the process by which B12 is absorbed:
Vitamin B12 binds to the protein in the foods we eat.
In order for the body to absorb B12, it first needs to be separated into its free form.
To do this, adequate amounts of stomach acid are required.
Once B12 has been separated, it needs to combine with another protein produced by stomach cells called intrinsic factor, so that it can be absorbed once it reaches the small intestine.
So, absorbing B12 is a multi-step process, and any disruption can compromise this process.
Here are a few factors that affect B12 absorption:
As you age, it becomes more difficult for your body to absorb vitamin B12 from foods because you produce less stomach acid.
Any surgeries that affect the stomach where intrinsic factor is made, or the ileum, which is the last portion of the small intestine where vitamin B12 is absorbed, can also increase your risk of a deficiency.
Lack of intrinsic factor in the body can cause a type of anemia called pernicious anemia. This is an autoimmune disease, which causes an overactive immune system to attack and destroy the stomach cells that produce intrinsic factor or the protein itself.
Vegans who don’t eat foods high in B12 are also at risk of developing a deficiency.
Prescription medication can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb B12.
People who take medications that suppress stomach acid for conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease, such as proton-pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, or other antacids, may also have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food.
That’s because these drugs can slow down the release and even decrease the production of stomach acid.
Medications used to treat diabetes like metformin can also cause B12 deficiency.
Alcohol consumption, even on a moderate level, can cause B12 deficiency. Drinking alcohol flushes B vitamins from your body and decreases absorption from your gut.
Also, you may not be able to process vitamins properly if you suffer from digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease.
Liver disorders may interfere with the storage of this nutrient because most of the body’s vitamin B12 is stored in the liver.
Next, how can you test for vitamin B12 deficiency?
A simple blood test can diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency.
For example, your doctor might recommend a complete blood count (CBC), a homocysteine test, or a methylmalonic acid (MAA) test.
The most important step, however, is to visit a doctor who has experience in diagnosing and treating B12 deficiencies.
Next, what foods can you eat to get enough vitamin B12?
Unlike other vitamins, B12 isn’t readily available to the body.
That’s because B12 is produced by bacteria in the soil.
And animals and humans must get it from bacteria, directly or indirectly.
Animal foods naturally contain high amounts of vitamin B12 because they accumulate this bacterial product during their lives.
Also, livestock are often supplemented with B12 in their feed.
Here is a list of foods that contain significant amounts of B12:
Beef, animal liver and shellfish, fish like sardines and tuna, meat, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
Vegan foods with lesser amounts of B12 include:
Algae – such as Spirulina and Chlorella
Seaweed – such as Nori or Laver
Nutritional yeast – a type of deactivated yeast, also called “Nooch”
Wheatgrass Juice – from freshly sprouted leaves
Legumes Sprouts – like moong, peas, lentil
Root Vegetables – like carrots, radish and turnips
Buckwheat – such as noodles or porridge
Mushrooms – Black trumpet and Golden Chanterelle contain higher levels of B12
B12 fortified foods – such as breakfast cereal, non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast
If you have low stomach acid, you may choose to eat fortified foods or B12 supplements, as these forms are absorbed well and do not require stomach acid.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 increases as you get older.
It’s recommended that vegans take more than the RDA of B12, to compensate for the lack of animal sources in their diet.
Most of the B12 supplements you find are cyanocobalamin, which is synthetic. The best form of supplemental B12 is methylcobalamin, which is naturally occurring and most readily absorbable.
See our recommended methylcobalamin source below.
Keep in mind that your body may only absorb 50% of the vitamin B12 it ingests.
What’s more, certain medical conditions, such as gut inflammation, can impede B12 absorption.
So it’s important to monitor your levels as you adjust your diet or begin supplementation.
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And now, over to you:
Are you deficient in vitamin B12? What steps have you taken to boost B12 levels?
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