Why You Need Vitamin B12

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Most of us have heard of people who go in for a Vitamin B12 injection.  They claim the injections give them more energy and help with brain fog.  But do we really need Vitamin B12?  The answer is a resounding “yes.”

We need Vitamin B12.  The question is whether we need to supplement our intake.   Well, that depends on several things.

  1.  Older adults may need supplements due to changes in diet, decreased ability to absorb the vitamin, other chronic diseases, medications, or surgeries they may have had.
  2. People with GI disorders, like Crohn’s Disease or Celiac Disease, may not be able to absorb and use Vitamin B12 from the food they eat.
  3. People who have had gastrointestinal surgeries may not be able to absorb and use Vitamin B12 from the food they eat.
  4. People who are on a vegan diet do not get any Vitamin B12 from their food, as it is only found naturally in animal products.
  5. People who take the drug Metformin for high blood sugar.
  6. People who take proton pump inhibitors or other antacid medications.
  7. Alcoholism. 
  8. Smoking.
  9. A thyroid disorder.

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin.  It is not usually stored in the body, although it can be stored in the liver.  The body only absorbs the amount of Vitamin B12 that it needs.  The rest is excreted by the kidneys.  This means it needs to be replenished daily, as our bodies cannot produce it.

Benefits of Vitamin B12 include:

  • It helps with red blood cell formation and preventing megaloblastic anemia by keeping them small and round to allow them to move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream.  Symptoms of anemia include fatigue and weakness.
  • Vitamin B12 may prevent birth defects, especially defects of the neural tube in the fetus.
  • Vitamin B12 may reduce risk of macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness.
  • It may improve mood or decrease symptoms of depression by helping to metabolize serotonin.  Decreased levels of B12 in the bloodstream are associated with decreased levels of serotonin, the chemical that enhances the feeling of well being.  There has been some research that shows that depressed people treated with antidepressants and B12 improve more than those treated with only antidepressants.
  • It may benefit brain health by preventing loss of neurons resulting in brain atrophy associated with memory loss or dementia.  Some research has shown that treatment with Omega 3 fatty acids and B12 result in a slower mental decline and may help improve memory even in those without dementia.  B12 may help with Alzheimer’s Disease by decreasing homocysteine levels, as high levels are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • B12 may give you an energy boost if you are deficient in it as B12 is involved in energy production.
  • Vitamin B12 may improve heart health by decreasing homocysteine levels in the blood stream.  Increased homocysteine is associated with heart disease and stroke, but it has not been proven that B12 reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • B12 has been known to promote healthy skin, hair, and nails by improving circulation.
  • It has been promoted to enhance sperm concentration, motility, and libido.
  • Promote better sleep.
  • May help Fibromyalgia due to decreasing homocysteine levels.  Higher homocysteine levels are associated with Fibromyalgia.
  • May prevent mosquito bites by exuding a mosquito repellant smell.  

Sources of Vitamin B12 include:

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, making it difficult for someone on a vegan diet to get it from their food.   Foods that are good sources of Vitamin B12 include clams, trout, salmon, liver, tuna, beef, haddock, milk, yogurt, cheese, egg yolks, and chicken.  Some whole grain foods, breakfast cereals, nondairy milks, and nutritional yeast have been fortified with Vitamin B12.  B12 can be found in capsules in a Vitamin B Complex form, or on its own.  Injections can be used and have the advantage of bypassing the gut and decreasing the chance of not being properly absorbed.

The recommended daily intake is 2.4 mcg per day.  Older people or those with problems absorbing B12 can take up to 100-500 mcg per day.  You should check with your doctor before taking more than the RDI.

What happens if you don’t get enough Vitamin B12?

  • Brain fog
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Neuropathy
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste

Vitamin B12 deficiencies are often missed in the elderly as they may have a poor appetite and not eat properly.  In a nursing home, the meal selections are limited, and the resident may not always like the selections they are offered.  Symptoms may be attributed to another chronic health condition, or dementia.  Deficiencies can lead to cognitive impairments or walking problems, leading to other injuries.

If you suspect you or a loved one may have a Vitamin B12 deficiency, talk to  your health care provider.  In most cases, a normal dose of B12 will not hurt you, but there is a possibility of drug interaction or problems with another health problem.















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