By Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC
Do you have feelings of anxiety, fatigue or dizziness? Do you have bouts of depression, memory loss or tingling in your hands or feet?
If so, you may be suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency.
According to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, most Americans don’t get enough B12 in their diet. Approximately 1.5 to 15 percent of the population is deficient in this nutrient.
B12, also known as cobalamin because of its blue mineral cobalt, is an essential water-soluble vitamin. It’s excreted through your urine and these losses need to be replenished and acquired through diet on a daily basis.
Plants like sea vegetables and brewer’s yeast contain B12, however, the best sources come from animal foods like grass fed meats and organ meats, fish, eggs, and pasture-raised dairy. Vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat eggs are at high risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency.
B12 promotes immune and brain function, heart and reproductive health, along with good digestion and absorption. It also helps creates white blood cells, red blood cells, DNA, and helps iron move through the bloodstream.
4 Symptoms of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
When the body doesn’t get enough B12, bad things can happen. First, there are fewer red and white blood cells being produced.
White blood cells help with immunity, so the lower amount of these in your body the higher your risk for getting sick.
Red blood cells help to move iron through the body. A reduction in red blood cells results in a reduction in the amount of iron in the blood, which can leave you feeling weak, sad, and tired and may cause anemia.
Second, your energy levels will diminish if you don’t have sufficient B12.
Third, your circulation could be compromised and you’re left with tingling in your hands or feet.
Fourth, ever feel like you are forgetting things or unable to comprehend information? It could be due to not getting enough B12.
So you’re eating grass-fed beef, you’re gobbling up eggs for breakfast, and you’re getting in fish regularly. You should be fine on the B12 front, right? Not necessarily.
Despite a high intake of B12 foods, your body may not be absorbing the nutrient.
Anyone suffering from digestive problems, ulcers, Crohn’s Disease, or pancreatic issues, someone who takes antacids other medications, or anyone who’s gone through weight loss surgery may not have enough stomach acid to properly break down those foods and absorb the nutrients from them.
Age is also a factor in B12 absorption. As we get older, the stomach doesn’t produce as much acid which can also result in a decline in the amount of B12 absorbed.
Unlike other water-soluble vitamins, B12 is stored in the liver until the body is ready to use the vitamin. This means that once someone stops getting enough B12 it can be months or years before their vitamin stores are depleted.
This may sound like a good thing, but if your body cannot absorb the nutrient you may still be suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency and will be susceptible to the deficiency symptoms.
How to Test for a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
It’s important to check your B12 levels when you get your annual bloodwork done. If you or someone you know is at risk for a B12 deficiency, get a test to know for sure. A complete test includes a blood test checking B12, urinary methylmaloic acid (MMA), and homocysteine levels.
B12 levels less than 450 picogram/mL are indicative of a deficiency. Testing MMA and homocysteine is helpful because often a normal B12 level does not always mean you have a sufficient amount of B12 in your body. If your test has a B12 level above 450 picogram/mL with an elevated MMA (above 0.4 micromoles/Liter) and homocysteine (above 6 micromoles/Liter) it indicates a deficiency.
As mentioned, the best way to get B12 is from diet, however, if you have a malabsorption issue, supplementation may be the answer. Be sure you’re getting a supplement that will go directly into your bloodstream. This includes those injected into the muscle, drops taken by mouth, or tablets that dissolve under the tongue.
You want to make sure you’re getting the best active form of B12, which includes those that are made of adenosylcobalamin, methylcobalalmin, or hydroxycobalamin. This will put B12 right into your bloodstream ensuring absorption and health improvement.
About Jeanette: Jeanette Kimszal is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University and has experience working in the media side of advertising. During that time she became health conscious and interested in nutrition and what started out as a hobby turned into a new career. She was accepted to Montclair State University and two years later obtained a certification in Nutrition, and then completed her dietetic internship with the ARAMARK Distance Learning Internship. She has experience working in the clinical, community, and management setting and has counseled both in- and out-patients. She currently resides in NJ and her passions include nutrition, health, wellness, writing, and music. She has a love for helping women attain healthy lifestyles through positive behavioral changes and teaching people how to add more nutrients into their diet through consumption of whole foods.