Lethargic? You Could Have B12 Deficiency
If your energy levels feel lower than ever these days, you might have a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12, also known as cobalamin, is essential for brain function and the production of DNA and red blood cells. Unfortunately, B12 deficiency is quite common.
Because B12 is stored in the liver for up to a few years, it can be a while before a deficiency can develop. If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in your energy levels, it’s worth having your doctor test your B12 levels. Whether you try supplements, shots or natural sources of B12, maintaining proper levels can help you regain your old energy.
Vitamin B12’s role in health
Vitamin B12 is used to form red blood cells, DNA and nerve cells. It also helps the brain develop appropriately. This water-soluble nutrient is naturally found in animal products, but may be found in fortified food and supplements as well.
Whether you take a supplement or get your B12 from a food source, B12 binds to protein in food, while stomach acid and enzymes unbind it into its free form. Then the vitamin combines with another protein to be digested in the small intestine.
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in fish, shellfish, red meat, poultry, milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt and liver. It’s also found in fortified nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals, and soy or rice milk.
Those 14 and older should consume 2.4 micrograms each day. During pregnancy and lactation, the recommended amount is 2.6 and 2.8 mcg daily. There is currently no upper limit on B12 intake, but if you take more than 25 mcg per day, it may increase the risk of bone fractures.
All about B12 deficiency
Although it can take a while before a B12 deficiency develops, there are certain factors that can affect whether and when it happens.
First, if you don’t eat any animal products, you’re more likely to be B12 deficient. It’s wise to take a B12 supplement or consume enriched/fortified foods, such as the aforementioned nutritional years, cereal and soy or rice milk.
Second, the protein which helps the small intestine absorb B12 is called intrinsic factor. People with pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease, can attack and destroy gut cells. Intrinsic factor is no longer present, which means your body cannot absorb vitamin B12. If a deficiency occurs, you may suffer from other types of anemia as well as neurological damage.
Next, if you don’t have enough stomach acid, your stomach won’t be able to convert B12 into its free form. This is common in older adults and people who take medications to suppress stomach acid. Your doctor should monitor your condition closely in order to prevent B12 deficiency.
Finally, if you have had intestinal surgeries or digestive disorders that interfere with nutrient absorption, you’re at a higher risk of B12 deficiency. This includes Crohn’s and celiac disease.
Signs of a B12 deficiency include both megaloblastic anemia and pernicious anemia, fatigue, weakness, memory loss, confusion, dementia, depression, seizures, and nerve damage with numbness and tingling in the hands and legs. It can also lead to age-related macular degeneration and osteoporosis.
If you suspect that you may have a B12 deficiency, have your medical doctor test your levels. Some people receive B12 injections. This intramuscular supplement is very effective at preventing or reversing a B12 deficiency.
Beware of people who suggest regular B12 injections. While it should be safe to enhance your diet with oral supplements, and injections can help quickly reverse B12 deficiencies, there’s usually no need for regular injections. Only severe deficiencies require regular injections, and should be used as a last resort.
The bottom line
B12 is a crucial vitamin that’s often overlooked. Because the liver can store B12 for so long, it may be a while before you experience any symptoms of a deficiency. However, it’s important that you and your doctor keep tabs on your levels: deficiencies can lead to severe conditions like dementia, nerve damage, osteoporosis and more. Furthermore, if you have any disorders that interfere with nutrient absorption, you may need regular monitoring.
Because B12 is naturally found in animal products, vegans and vegetarians should make sure they take a supplement or consume fortified foods. This will ensure that your body takes in enough of the nutrient. With regular B12 intake, you should feel happier, healthier and more energetic overall.