You’re probably Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12. Here’s Why
You hear that vitamin C is good for immunity, that calcium builds your bones, and that omega-3s are important for your heart and brain. But how often do people talk about B vitamins? Doctors mention folate, a B vitamin, to women of childbearing age around the time they’re ready to start having children, because of its importance for neural development, but for the most part it stops there. With the wide range of functions that vitamin B12 performs, it’s a wonder we don’t hear about it more often.
Keep reading to learn about the various benefits of vitamin B12, what deficiency looks like, and why your B12 supplement may not be as helpful as you think.
Vitamin B12 Benefits
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that feeds your nervous system, provides the raw material for DNA repair and maintenance, and helps form blood cells. Some benefits include:
- Blood cell formation. The role of vitamin B12 in helping form red blood cells is especially important to those trying to resolve or prevent anemia. If you don’t have sufficient B12, all the iron in the world won’t help you. Without B12, red blood cells will not form properly and be released into the bloodstream.
- Maintaining bone integrity. Studies show that older adults with B12 deficiency also had lower bone density than adults who had adequate B12 levels.
- Brain health and mood. Research shows a link between depression and vitamin B12 levels. A number of studies show positive effects of treatment outcomes when using vitamin B12 as part of a depression treatment regimen. Other studies point to helpful effects of B12 on age-related cognitive decline and memory.
- Healthy pregnancy. Adequate B12 is necessary to avoid birth defects that are associated with deficiency.
- Energy. Vitamin B12 deficiency may contribute to feelings of tiredness.
B12 deficiency symptoms
It is estimated that 15% of the population is deficient in vitamin B12, and some experts estimate higher numbers than that. Some people will go through life completely unaware they are deficient. Others may notice symptoms like:
- Megaloblastic anemia — malformation of blood vessels that leads to low red blood cells
- Muscle weakness
- Tngling in the extremeties
- Memory and cognitive problems
How much vitamin B12 do I need?
The daily recommended amount of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 mcg per day. Common conditions like low stomach acid, advanced age, and certain prescription medications may interfere with B12 absorption, so some people may need more.
Research suggests that pregnant and lactating mothers who are deficient in vitamin B12 may need more, up to 100 mcg per day.
Food sources high in B12
Foods high in vitamin B12 include:
- Fortified cereal
- Tuna, canned
- Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- Low-fat milk
- Chicken breast
Do vegans and vegetarians get enough vitamin B12?
There is no vitamin B12 in plant foods, so if you are avoiding animal products, you will need a high quality vitamin B12 supplement to meet your body’s needs.
Supplemental B12 does not necessarily contain animal products. It can be lab-derived from bacterial fermentation.
What to look for in a B12 supplement
Vitamin B12 supplements come in two forms: methylcolbamin and cyanocolbamin. Chemically speaking, the difference is that the methylcolbamin molecular contains a methyl group, and the cyanocolbamin molecule contains a cyanide group. Cyanocolbamin is lab-created and not available through foods.
Cyanocolbamin is the form that’s most commonly found in supplements because it’s cheap to make, but your body must convert it to one of the active forms – either methylcolbamin or adenosylcobalamin.
That’s all well and good, unless you have the MTHFR gene mutation, which impairs your conversion of cyanocolbamin to the active forms. It’s controversial how common this mutation is thought to be. Some authorities say only around 10% of the population have the mutation, and others say it’s much higher, at 40% or even 60%, depending on who you ask.
To ensure you’re using the vitamin B12 that you’re taking, opt for methylcolbamin, which is already in the active form and not subject to conversion (or conversion problems, if you have the MTHFR mutation).
People opt for sublingual B12, B12 shots, and B12 patches to better absorb the vitamin.