Fix Your B12 Deficiency

September 13, 2017 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

The human body is an amazing machine, capable of regulating itself under extreme duress. It can raise its own temperature to fight illness. Your joints can predict rainy weather. Your brain is both a turbine of cognitive function and a near-infinite warehouse of memory. Find anything built by humans that can do those things and more for 80-plus years! But the body can’t do everything by itself—we need to feed it with the proper “fuels” to ensure optimal functioning.

And, among the more important of those fuels is vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 assists the body in making red blood cells, nerves, and DNA. Pretty important stuff. On top of that, a lack of B12 can lead to depression, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and possible paranoia and delusions. This puts the need for B12 high on the list of something you can start today to make a big difference down the road.

Who’s at Risk for B12 Deficiency?

Our bodies can’t produce B12, so we have to get it from outside sources—in the foods we eat. Some people, however, are more at risk for having a B12 deficiency.

Vegetarians/Vegans: As stated above, our bodies can’t make B12. Neither can plants. Therefore, a purely vegetarian/vegan diet is nearly devoid of vitamin b12.

People with Celiac Disease: The body stores a large portion of vitamin B12 in the lower part of the small intestine. But one of the hallmarks of celiac disease is damaged or limited intestinal function. As a result, vitamin B12 is not absorbed very well.

People Who’ve Had Weight Loss Surgery: Nearly 70% of gastric bypass patients have low amounts of vitamin B12 in their blood one year after surgery. That’s because the surgery does two things. First, it reduces the size of your stomach so less food is eaten (i.e. fewer vitamins and minerals enter the body). And second, the digestive system is rearranged, which causes food to bypass the small intestine. As a result, the body does not absorb many of the nutrients in food, especially vitamin B12.

People Over the Age of 50: As you age, your body needs more B12 as executive bodily functions become more difficult to carry out. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have a seriously low B12 level, and nearly 20% may have a borderline deficiency.

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Warning Signs of B12 Deficiency

Symptoms of a B12 deficiency do not just appear overnight. A B12 deficiency can develop over the course of years, with symptoms initially appearing and gradually intensifying over time. It can also come on relatively quickly if, for example, you suddenly switch from a B12-rich diet to a strict vegetarian/vegan diet. Given the array of symptoms it can cause, the condition can be overlooked or, more often, confused with something else. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may include:

  • strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
  • difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
  • anemia
  • a swollen, inflamed tongue
  • yellowed skin (jaundice)
  • difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
  • paranoia or hallucinations
  • weakness
  • fatigue

Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other diseases. A good physician will be able to not only notice the symptoms but also connect them to a possible B12 deficiency. However, only a blood test can confirm this. That’s why it is vital to seek medical advice from your doctor when you begin to suspect a deficiency based on the above symptoms.

It’s Best to B Proactive

Of course, it would be even better if you didn’t have to see a doctor to begin with. Since signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency are slow to develop and difficult to discern, the best way to prevent it is to be proactive. Being proactive about your health won’t just ward off a B12 deficiency but also a host of other deficiencies and diseases.

I don’t recommend you throw back a couple Red Bulls or energy drinks loaded with ungodly amounts of sugar, caffeine, and sodium. They may be high in B12 but everything else in them is terrible for your daily and long-term health. Don’t even consider energy drinks an option.

Instead, there are plenty of foods that have B12 in them or are fortified with them: shellfish, fish, beef liver, fortified soy products (tofu, soy milk), fortified cereals, eggs, and red meat, to name a few.

Most fish are rich in vitamin B12. Those with highest amounts are mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, and trout. Red meat and beef livers are also high in B12.

As it turns out, you don’t need a lot of red meat to get a healthy dose of B12. For example, just 3 ounces of red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) has 85% of the recommended daily value of B12. As for the fortified soy and cereals, look for non-GMO products that are also low in sugar. For example, unflavored fortified soy milk and bran cereals made from 100% whole grains.

A lot of B12-rich foods can be high in calories—so be careful. You can only eat so much before the B12 you are taking in is offset by the detriments of a high calorie diet. Therefore, B12 supplements may be a safer route. I recommend a supplement providing 6 mcg daily. The methylated form of B12 is best, but it’s not always easy to find in your average grocery store. Try a local health food store or reputable online supplement retailer instead.

References

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