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Vitamin B12 and Your Health: The Complete Guide

Vitamin B12 and Your Health: The Complete Guide

Are you getting enough B12 in your diet? Without sufficient levels of this vitamin, you'll face a variety of health problems, including potentially dangerous issues.

Fortunately, maintaining proper B12 levels is usually relatively easy. Here's a complete look at what B12 is, what it does, and how to make sure your body maintains an adequate supply.

What is Vitamin B12?

B12 is an essential vitamin, which means your body needs it to survive. It's necessary for proper brain, nerve, and blood cell function. 

Your body can't make B12 on its own; instead, it's introduced through food or other means. It's in a wide variety of fish, meat, poultry, and dairy. Additionally, B12 is also available in a shot or cream. 

The Dangers of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

If your body's level of B12 drops too low, you'll suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. While vitamin B12 deficiency doesn't sound too bad, it's a potentially dangerous situation.

Here are some warning signs that your B12 levels are too low:

  • "Pins and needles" sensation in arms, hands, legs, and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness when walking or standing
  • Mental confusion, anxiety, or depression (or all three)

Vitamin B12 deficiency can go from mild and irritating to a significant problem in as little as six months. Low B12 levels negatively affect serotonin and dopamine production in the brain, leading to depression and similar issues. If left untreated, low B12 levels can lead to cognitive impairment similar in severity to dementia. However, that takes a long time to occur.  

Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency Hard to Diagnose?

Yes and no. A few simple blood tests easily diagnose vitamin B deficiency. However, doctors don't always administer those tests as part of a routine visit.

Compounding the problem is the fact that initial signs of deficiency are general and vague. Tiredness, depression, and other symptoms are easily mistaken for signs you're stressed out or rundown. Most people don't immediately assume they need more B12.

To diagnose a B12 deficiency, keep two things in mind:


1. Keep B12 deficiency in mind as a potential problem. Take the symptoms seriously. Try writing them down as they occur. Simple, subtle symptoms are easy to dismiss in isolation, but if they occur continually over a long period, a more serious problem might be developing.
2. Visit a doctor. Suggest a possible B12 deficiency. Screening is relatively straightforward (and usually affordable). It's just that many doctors don't think about B12 deficiencies, even though they're relatively common. Don't be shy about speaking up.

Factors Which Increase Your Risk of Developing a Vitamin B12 Deficiency

If you eat a fairly balanced diet with meat, chicken, eggs and dairy, you usually don't have to worry too much about developing a deficiency. If you're not sure, check the Nutrition labels on the foods you buy. You might be surprised how readily available it is in many foods.

However, some people have an increased risk of developing a deficiency due to a variety of medical conditions affecting nutrient absorption. It's not a lack of B12 in the diet; instead, the B12 introduced to the body is unable to be properly processed. 

Medical issues which increase your risk of B12 deficiency include:

  • Gastritis, where the stomach lining has thinned
  • Crohn's disease, celiac disease and other issues affecting the small intestine
  • Anemia
  • Graves' disease, lupus and other immune system disorders

In other cases, medication can impair your body's ability to absorb nutrients. Many heartburn medications have this effect, including medications called proton pump inhibitors.

Additionally, vegans and vegetarians have an increased risk of developing a deficiency. The highest risk is for true vegans, who eat no animal products at all, including milk, cheese, and eggs.

How to Fix Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Fortunately, most problems related to deficiency are reasonably easy to treat. Diagnosing is usually the main hurdle. Treating deficiency usually requires an increase of Vitamin B12 in a way the body can absorb.

Typical ways to administer vitamin B12 are:

  • Orally
  • Intravenously
  • Topically
  • Oral

The recommended oral dose is between 300 to 10,000 mcg daily. However, usually, oral doses are kept on the low side of that range, around 650 to 1000 mcg each day. Note this is only for treating deficiency. As a general supplement, the dosage should range between one and 25 mcg daily.

Injection

Usually, an injection of B12 is given to treat moderate and serious deficiencies. A typical dose is 30 mcg daily for between five and ten days. After levels have returned to a more normal range, maintenance therapy is between 100 to 200 mcg monthly.

Injections are usually the preferred delivery method for patients with difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.

Two injection sites are available:
Intramuscular – Directly into the muscle
Subcutaneous – Into the areas of fat between the skin and muscle

Typical injection sites include the mid-thigh, glutes or deltoid areas of the upper leg region. In some cases, shots can also be injected into the abdomen area.

Topical

Finally, certain situations require topical cream. Mainly, they treat eczema, psoriasis, and certain types of canker sores. Note that a variety of specific creams contain B12 plus other ingredients. Regividerm is a common topical ointment used. 

Foods With a High Amount of Vitamin B12

Meat and dairy are the best sources. Specifically, organ meats such as liver and kidneys typically contain the highest levels. If you want the absolute highest percentage of B12, choose lamb liver. A 3.5-ounce portion of lamb livers has 1,500% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin B12. (Excess B12 is stored in your body until needed.)

Other excellent sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Clams
  • Sardines
  • Beef

You can also find a variety of non-animal products fortified with B12. Cereals, baked goods and even nootropic coffee such as Noocaf Focus Blend are all quick and easy sources.

Other Benefits of Vitamin B12

While B12 deficiency is the most issue related to this vitamin, it's not the only potential problem.

Vitamin B12 also helps manage symptoms associated with the following conditions:

  • Memory loss
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Heart disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Sleep disorders
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • And many other common conditions

It's important to understand B12 isn't a magical cure-all. However, because it promotes brain, blood, and nerve health, maintaining proper levels helps treat a wide range of conditions.

Additionally, vitamin B12 also helps promote clear eyesight while preventing stroke and certain types of cancer.

B12 also helps increase energy levels, mental alertness, and even mood. It does this by combating deficiency, which causes reduced energy, cognitive sluggishness, and depression. The lower your current B12 levels, the better you'll feel with increased B12. That's why B12 is often said to boost energy and general feelings of well-being.

Final Thoughts

In a strange twist, Vitamin B12's widespread availability in food often makes B12 deficiency hard to diagnose. Plus, the initial symptoms are vague. However, you'll want to take them seriously. Contact your doctor if you suspect you're not getting enough Vitamin B12, especially if you have any condition affecting your body's ability to absorb food.

Fortunately, maintaining proper B12 levels is usually fairly easy, no matter what you like to eat. From meat to injections to even fortified coffee drinks, you can find a way that works for you and helps you take your health to all-new levels.

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