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Vitamin B12: Benefits, Sources, Deficiency, and More

Are you sure you get enough vitamin B12? This is the best time for you to find out to ensure you stay healthy.

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that helps to make up your red blood cells and your DNA, for instance. However, the human body doesn’t make vitamin B12 which means you would have to rely on foods and animal products for your daily requirement of this essential vitamin.

Getting vitamin B12 from the foods you eat should be something you do regularly, as the human body does not naturally store vitamin B12 for an extended period.

How much of vitamin B-12 should I get?

The answer to the question of how much vitamin B12 your body needs depends on your age, medical condition, the kind of medications you take, and your eating habits.

The average daily requirement of vitamin B12 measured in micrograms (mcg) varies according to ages and is listed as follows.

  • Infants of up to 6 months of age: 0.4 mcg
  • Babies of up to 7-12 months of age: 0.5 mcg
  • Children of up to age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
  • Kids of up to age 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
  • Children of up to age 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
  • Teens of age 14-18: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg each day if pregnant, and 2.8 mcg each day if breastfeeding)
  • Adults: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg daily if pregnant and 2.8 mcg daily if breastfeeding)
  • Food Sources of Vitamin B12

You can quickly get vitamin B12 from consuming animal foods, which naturally have B12 in it, or from food items and snacks that have been fortified with it.

Animal sources of b12 include eggs, dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry. If you’re looking for a food that is fortified with vitamin B12, check the Nutrition Facts label of the product.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B-12. If you’re not sure, you can talk to your doctor about whether or not you should get a blood test to know your level of vitamin B12.

With age, it can get more difficult to absorb this vitamin. It can also occur if you have had a weight loss surgery or another surgical procedure that take out part of your stomach, or if you are a heavy drinker.

You may also stand a higher chance of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency if you have any of the following:

  • Atrophic gastritis, which is when your stomach lining has thinned
  • Pernicious anemia, which makes it a challenge for the body to absorb vitamin B12
  • Illnesses that affect the small intestine, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite
  • Immune system disorders, such as lupus, or Graves’ disease
  • Been taking specific medications that interfere with the body’s absorption of B12. This includes some heartburn medications including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole, rabeprazole, esomeprazole, pantoprazole and lansoprazole; H2 Blockers such as famotidine, cimetidine, and ranitidine; and some diabetes medications such as metformin.

You can also suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency if you go on a vegan diet (meaning you don’t consume any animal products, including milk, eggs, cheese, and meat) or you are a vegetarian who doesn’t eat enough dairy products or eggs to meet your vitamin B12 needs.

In both cases, you can include fortified foods to your diet or go for supplements to meet this need. We have a separate article on this subject.

Pregnant or New Mom?

If you are a pregnant woman on a vegetarian or vegan diet and plan to focus strictly on breastfeed your baby?

You need to discuss with your doctor before you birth your baby so that you can have a good plan in place for how to get enough vitamin B12 to keep your baby strong and healthy.

Without getting enough vitamin B12, your baby could suffer developmental delays and not grow and thrive as he should.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

If you are dealing with a vitamin B12 deficiency, there is a high chance that you could become anemic.

However, if you’re dealing with a mild deficiency, you may have no symptoms. If a vitamin B-12 deficiency is left untreated, it may cause symptoms such as:

  • Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
  • Pale skin
  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
  • A smooth tongue
  • Vision loss
  • Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
  • Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes

Treatment

If you are dealing with pernicious anemia or you have problems absorbing vitamin B12, you will require shots of vitamin B-12 at first. You may have to keep getting these vitamin B-12 shots, use high doses of a B-12 supplement orally, or get it ingested nasally after that.

If you do not consume animal products, there are other options you can explore. You can modify your diet by adding some vitamin B12-fortified grains or breakfast cereals, a high dose of oral vitamin B12, a supplement or B12 injections if you have a deficiency.

For older adults who are dealing with a vitamin B12 deficiency, they will likely have to use a daily vitamin B12 supplement or any multivitamin tablets or syrup that contains B12.

For most individuals, simple treatments will resolve the deficiency problem. However, any nerve damage that occurs as a result of the deficiency could be permanent.

Prevention

Most individuals are able to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency by consuming enough poultry, meat, dairy products, seafood, and eggs.

If you do not eat any animal products, or you suffer from a medical condition that limits the ability of your body to absorb nutrients, you can take in vitamin B12 in form of a multivitamin or other supplement and you can opt for foods fortified with vitamin B12.

If you make up your mind to take vitamin B12 supplements or multivitamin, let your doctor know about it, so he or she can let you know how much of it you need. Your doctor can also tell you if the supplement will affect any medicines you’re taking.

We hope that you find this article useful. Please, make sure to leave a comment below if you have any questions you’d like to ask.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

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