Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and it is one of the most important B vitamins our body needs. Its deficiency causes not only pernicious anemia but also developmental issues in children and cognitive decline in seniors. A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to memory loss, degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular issues and even low sperm count in men. However, simply taking vitamin B12 supplement doesn’t help. This is because, the vitamin is not easily absorbed by the body. A diet rich in animal proteins usually helps prevent deficiency of this vital vitamin, but what about vegetarians and vegans? Most vegetarian diets do not supply vitamin B12. As a result, almost 2% of entire US population and 4% elderly in the United States are deficient in Vitamin B12. So today we will study ways to absorb Vitamin B 12 better, the best food sources of this vitamin and also some tips to prevent overdose.
What are the benefits of vitamin B12?
In 1820s, when pernicious anemia was first discovered, it was akin to a death sentence. Doctors started recommending plates of cooked liver to people with this deficiency. Liver contains B12 in concentrated forms and that increased the levels of B12 significantly. Today however, one need not eat plates full of liver. Instead, one can take vitamin b12 supplements or injections which tend to provide mega doses of this essential vitamin. Here are some vitamin B12 benefits:
- Better folate levels – Vitamin B12 is linked to folic acid or folate. Folate is one of the most essential of all prenatal vitamins. A deficiency in folate is linked to low birth weight and impaired fetal development.
- Better energy levels – Fatigue is often a symptom of low levels of vitamin B12
- Enhanced child development – So many kids are erroneously diagnosed as having ADHD or ADD or developmental issues. In reality; it is often vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Better cognitive health in elderly patients – As we age, our body is not able to absorb vitamin B12 properly. Increased number of falls, memory issues and even diagnoses of MS or Alzheimer’s can all possibly link to vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Reduced pain – Many doctors recommend vitamin B12 injections for dealing with chronic pain like leg pain, back pain etc.
- Prevention of certain types of cancers – Vitamin B12 can prevent certain colorectal cancers, cervical cancer and renal cancer.
- Prevention of certain mental disorders – People with depression and anxiety can benefit from B12 supplementation.
- Strokes – Can prevent recurrent strokes.
- Venous thrombosis – B12 could prevent venous thrombosis.
Main causes of vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually seen in vegans and vegetarians. This is because there are very few plant based sources of this water-soluble vitamin. Atrophic gastritis can also cause this deficiency particularly in elderly people. In this case, there is inflammation of the stomach lining which reduces friendly gut bacteria and also leads to lower gastric acid that is needed for digestion and absorption of nutrients. Therefore, individuals older than 50 years need to take a B12 supplement or eat foods fortified with it. Certain drugs can also interfere with Vitamin B12 absorption including antacids, omeprazole, metformin etc.
Vitamin B12 deficiency signs and symptoms
- Nerve damage
- Memory loss
- Stomach problems
- Hair and skin issues
- ADD, ADHD and childhood developmental issues
Primary sources of B12
- Beef liver – 3 ounces contains nearly 71 mcg of B12
- Seafood – Oysters (3 ounces contains nearly 84 mcg of B12). Trout (3 oz contains 5.4 mcg)
Sources of B12 for vegetarians and vegans
- Fortified cereals
- Blue green algae
- Brewer’s yeast
- Fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, non dairy kefir and tofu
- Raw spinach
- Brown rice
- Whole grain breads
- Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
What should you know about Vitamin B12 supplements
A simple blood test can tell you if you are deficit. Accordingly, your doctor might prescribe the best b12 supplement. Vitamin B12 supplements are available in pills, sublingual lozenges, patches, nasal sprays, gels and even as vitamin B12 injections and shots. Vitamin B12 pills are least effective as they require certain stomach bacteria and proteins to be present in order to be absorbed. All other forms of B12 supplements directly go into the blood stream.
Why are B12 pills not the best solution to a B12 deficiency?
Most experts believe that a person with severe B12 deficiency would need other forms of vitamin B12. This is because; the pills are not efficiently absorbed by the intestines. When you take vitamin B12 injections, they readily go into the bloodstream. Also, when it comes to B12 pills, there are two forms available: cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. The first form contains cyanide which is a poison and experts are divided about the opinion whether ingesting this toxin is good for the body or not. Methylcobalamin provides B12 but without the cyanide. The absorption of this again depends on the ingredients in the stomach.
How to take vitamin B12 injections
If you are planning to take B12 injections, you need to take them in a substantial muscle group. The gluteus or butt muscles and thigh muscles work best. The shots tend to cause redness and pain in the site of the injection. Some people also experienced muscle weakness in the arms.
Brand names of best B12 injections: Cobal, Cyanoject, Cyomin, Vibal.
Steps to take B12 shots
You will need a syringe, the B12 vile and drip, Betadine or alcohol, sterile gauze sponges.
Snap cover of the B12 vile and drip solution of the Betadine on the rubber cap. Let the betadine sit on the cap for a few minutes.
Clean the area on the body where you will take the shot.
Remove needle cover from the syringe. Pull back the plunger to get air in the syringe. Plunge the needle into the vile. Push plunger to put air into the vile. Do not remove the needle. Turn the vile upside down. Position the needle into the liquid near the rubber cap. Pull back the plunger so that the needle starts filling with the liquid. Watch the lines on the syringe and take only the dosage you need. Pull needle out and hold it upright. Flick it once or twice to remove air bubbles. Push plunger to get exact dosage.
Grab a chunk of thigh or butt muscles. Plunge the needle. Pull back the plunger a bit to ensure you are not in a vein. As long as there is no blood, you are fine. Now press the plunger down. Pull the needle out.
Never try to diagnose a B12 deficiency on your own. Always take B12 shots or supplements under medical supervision.
Do vitamin B12 injections help with weight loss?
Many people take B12 pills and injections for weight loss. However, there is no research that can confirm if there is a link between weight loss and B12. One line of thought is that B12 helps increase energy levels and that can help a person exercise more. This could aid in weight loss and metabolism.
Vitamin B12 supplement side effects
- Pain and redness at the site of the injection
If these effects persist or worsen, see a doctor right away.
RDA (Recommended daily allowance) of Vitamin B12
The RDA of vitamin B12 for all ages is about 2.4 micrograms per day. This value increases greatly during pregnancy as well as during lactation.
Vitamin B12 – suggested daily dose and signs of overdose
No signs of vitamin B12 overdose are seen even with doses of 100mcg/day. In fact, vegetarians should consider taking 100 mcg of B12 daily. Elderly people, and those who take antacid medicines, should also take a daily supplement. Suggested daily dose for preventing cognitive decline is about 100 mcg per day.
Suggested reading: Natural foods to reduce pernicious anemia
Vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians
Here are some best vitamin B12 food sources for vegetarians:
- Taking 2-3 tsp of blackstrap molasses can supplement B12 and help prevent fatigue, anemia and other symptoms of B12 deficiency.
- You can mix apple cider vinegar (ACV) and blackstrap molasses together for enhanced benefits. ACV balances pH, fights inflammation and enhances absorption of nutrients.
The combination is especially beneficial to women with menstrual issues. Vegans and vegetarians may regularly take Blackstrap molasses for increasing B12.
Eating yogurt regularly is an excellent way to get more B12 in your system. Yogurt has a high absorption rate of B12; nearly 50-75%. It is also a great source of folate and B6.
Milk, especially cow’s milk, is a great source of B12. Adequate consumption can prevent anemia. Drink at least 2 cups of cow’s milk daily. This should give you significant chunk of the RDA of B12. Add it to fortified breakfast cereals that also contain B12. Plus it has a host of other nutrients like calcium, vitamin D etc.
Cheese is an excellent source of vitamin B12. Swiss, Mozzarella and cottage cheeses are the best varieties of cheeses that are rich in this important B vitamin. A single slice of cheese can give you nearly 22-30% of the RDA of B12.
Vegans can consider soy milk to get their daily amount of vitamin B12. A single cup of vitamin B12 contains 2.4 mcg of B12.
Like many fermented foods, tempeh is an excellent source of vitamin B12. It also contains probiotic bacteria that enhance immunity and eliminate bad bacteria which cause diseases. This plant based protein rich food is a great source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians and vegans.
Shiitake mushrooms are a type of fungi that are a natural source of B12. Vegans and vegetarians must include this in their diet.
Whey is a not just a source of muscle building protein; it is also rich in calcium and B vitamins. You can easily make whey at home by boiling milk and then curdling it with vinegar or lemon. The liquid that separates from the cheese is whey. Add this to your pancake or bread batter to make these recipes even more nutritious.
Granola and muesli, oats, bran and other breakfast cereals are rich in B12. Have these for breakfast or as a late night snack to increase your B12 levels. Add a cup of cow’s milk or soy milk to increase the B12 content further.
Many people diagnosed with iron deficiency or anemia, have eaten pumpkin seeds and miraculously increased their levels. If you get dizzy spells or experience fatigue frequently, then eat a handful of pumpkin seeds daily to overcome these symptoms.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually seen in vegans and vegetarians as well as in elderly people. Apart from taking pills, injections and sublingual lozenges, one can also make simple dietary additions to prevent pernicious anemia. We hope these tips help you!