If your body isn’t getting enough vitamin B12, it can create physical, neurological and psychological problems. A vitamin B12 deficiency can occur when you aren’t consuming enough of it, or if your body isn’t absorbing it properly.
You’re more at risk of having a B12 deficiency if you’re older than 75, have a digestive disorder (including celiac disease) or follow a strict vegan diet. The condition is also linked to chronic alcoholism and certain medications, including metformin (for controlling diabetes), oral birth control and proton pump inhibitors (for peptic ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease.)
This critical nutrient is responsible for many functions in your body, including red blood cell formulation, cell metabolism, brain/nerve function and production of DNA – the genetic material found in all of your body’s cells. If the deficiency isn’t corrected in a timely manner, it can lead to permanent damage.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A deficiency can cause a range of problems and symptoms. These symptoms can develop slowly, becoming worse over time. Some people may not display any symptoms, while others may experience neurological issues and damage. Among the symptoms:
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pale-yellow skin color
- Sore mouth or tongue inflammation
- Numbness or tingling (pins and needles) in your hands or feet
- Vision problems
- Brain fog (difficulty remembering or becoming easily confused)
- Difficulty walking
- Trouble speaking
- Unexplained irritability or mood changes
Boosting Your Vitamin Levels
In some instances, your primary care doctor may suggest a vitamin B12 injection. But usually, the solution is as simple as changing your eating habits. It is recommended that the average person consume 2.4 micrograms of B12, which is primarily found in animal products, each day. Foods that contain vitamin B12 include:
- Fish and shellfish: This includes clams, mussels, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout and salmon. A 3-ounce serving of any of these will meet or exceed your recommended daily needs.
- Red meat: Cooked liver (where the nutrient is stored) will far exceed your daily needs. A 3-ounce serving of other cuts, including steak and lamb, will also work. Eating too much red meat, however, can increase your risk for other health problems, including heart disease. Check with your doctor for advice on how much vitamin B12 you should get from this source.
- Dairy: Cows pass the nutrient into their milk, though not at the same levels as is found in red meat. You can meet your daily needs with two cups of low-fat milk, 16 ounces of low-fat yogurt or 3 ounces of Swiss cheese.
- Poultry: As with cows, the nutrient is stored in the liver. So, 1 ounce of cooked turkey or chicken liver will satisfy your daily needs. So too will 6 ounces of ground turkey or 9 ounces of roasted turkey. Vitamin B12 is found in lower concentrations in chicken meat, with 12 ounces of roasted chicken breast supplying only half of your daily needs.
- Eggs: You can get a quarter of your daily needs through one whole egg, with most of the nutrient found in the yolk.
Increasing your consumption of vitamin B12 can be a challenge if you are on a vegan or whole foods plant-based diet. In that case, you may need to add an over-the-counter supplement to your diet plan. But there are some plant-based sources you can use. These include nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, fortified non-dairy milks, fermented foods and seaweed. Be sure to read the nutrition labels to see how much B12 they contain. Your primary care doctor can work with you to develop a plan that works with your diet.
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