What is Vitamin B12 and How to Prevent B12 Deficiency

Many kind of foods providing vitamin b12

Your body uses vitamin B12 to make nerves, red blood cells and DNA, and to function well.  It is a vitamin that is not produced by your body and must be ingested through your diet. Where do I get Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 comes into our diet via animal-based foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products.  Our body doesn’t actually store vitamin B12 very long, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough.   People who are vegans or who do not eat enough animal-based foods do risk becoming vitamin B12 deficient.

If you are not getting enough B12, as noted by your doctor by blood test results, you can correct this B12 deficiency in two ways:

Vitamin B12 pills

Vitamin B12 injections

As well, a standard daily multivitamin containing B12 can be used to prevent or correct a mild B12 deficiency. The Harvard Medical School states that according to the Institute of Medicine, it is recommended that individuals over the age of 50 get extra B12 from a supplement, due to the fact that as we age, we absorb fewer vitamins from our food.

How much Vitamin B12 do I need?

The amount of vitamin B12 you need depends on your age, your diet, medications you may be taking, and certain medical conditions you may have.  In general, the amounts recommended vary by age.

  • Adults – 2.4 mcg/day (consult your doctor if you are pregnant  or breastfeeding)
  • Teens  14-18yrs old – 2.4mcg/day
  • Children 9-13yrs old – 1.8mcg/day
  • Children  4-8yrs old – 1.2mcg/day
  • Children 1-3yrs old – 0.9mcg/day
  • Babies 7-12months – 0.5mcg/day
  • Babies up to 6 months of age -0.4mcg/day

Can I get Vitamin B12 from food?

If you are eating a well-balanced diet which includes animal-based products such as eggs, meat, dairy, fish and poultry, you will probably get enough vitamin B12 daily.   Vegans and vegetarians who do not eat these foods or enough of these foods, as well as older individuals who do not eat a variety of foods, may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency.  Certain fortified foods such as some almond milk products and breakfast cereals contain vitamin B12 and should be included in vegan diets.

What is Vitamin B12 deficiency?

A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause damage to your nervous system and cause anemia, among other things. Your doctor can do a blood test to determine if you have a healthy vitamin B12 level.   Aside from not eating enough foods containing this vitamin, it’s important to note that there are certain factors that can make absorbing vitamin B12 more difficult, including:

  • Age – as we age absorbing vitamin B12 becomes more difficult.
  • Any surgery where part of your stomach was removed
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Atrophic gastritis
  • Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
  • Lupus, Grave’s disease or any other immune system disorder
  • Pernicious anemia

There are also medications that interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12, such as some diabetes medications, such as, metformin, and medications that reduce acid production in your stomach, such as, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and H2 Receptor Blockers.  Speak to your pharmacist about how your medication may affect your vitamin B12 levels.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Smooth, swollen or inflamed tongue
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Tingling in the arms and legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of vision
  • Difficulty thinking and reasoning or memory  loss, possible depression

How do I Know I Need Vitamin B12 Supplementation?

Your doctor may decide that you need to take vitamin B12 supplements and/or have B12 injections.  Older patients are often told they should take daily vitamin B12 supplements.   The results are usually successful.    Always let your doctor know that you want to take vitamin B12 supplements so they can monitor your B12 levels and also make sure that they are aware you are taking it while on other medications.

Did you find this article helpful?  Here are some other articles you may like:

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What is the difference between a generic drug and a brand-name drug?

If you have questions about your prescription medications or any other medication, please contact our team at Canada Online Health by calling toll free 1-800-399-DRUG (3784). One of our patient representatives will be happy to assist you or transfer you to a licensed Canadian pharmacist for a free consultation.

This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.  It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation.  If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).

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