Do you need a B12 boost?
Lost your va va voom? Been feeling fed up or lacking in energy for a while? Maybe, like many people, you have low levels of vitamin B12.
What is vitamin B12?
The two forms of vitamin B12 which are active in human metabolism are methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin (cobalamin indicates that they contain cobalt). Humans cannot make vitamin B12 ourselves, so we must source it in food, where the highest levels are found in grass-fed red meat, grass-fed dairy, and wild fish. Modern diets of ultra-processed food and diets low in animal products increase the risk of B12 deficiency.
A severe B12 deficiency can be caused by a condition called pernicious anaemia, which is caused by an autoimmune disease. This can be treated with injections of B12.
What are the benefits of an optimal B12 level?
- Balances your mood – B12 regulates production of compounds which help us deal with stress and regulate mood.
- Improves cognitive function – studies highlight vitamin B12’s role in concentration and learning, so a deficiency can increase the risk for attention disorders, Alzheimer’s disease & Parkinson’s disease.
- Increases energy levels – good levels of B12 helps your body use glucose to produce the energy you need without feeling tired.
- Protects cardiovascular health – vitamin B12 protects against heart attack or stroke by lowering homocysteine levels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular issues, and by reducing the build-up of plaques in arteries.
- Boosts skin and hair – B12 is essential for healthy cell reproduction, which is critical to keep skin and hair healthy. Optimising levels of B12 reduces hair breakage, strengthens nails and reduces redness, dryness, inflammation and acne blemishes.
- Aids digestion – B12 plays a role in the production of digestive enzymes, which are needed to extract all nutrients from our food and to create a healthy gut microbiome.
- Reduces the risk of birth defects – B12 is needed for the creation of DNA which is used as the blueprint for the entire body. B12 also enables the body to access folate, which is needed for DNA synthesis. Low B12 increases the risk of birth defects such as neural tube defect.
- Reduces nerve damage – B12 has been shown to stimulate regrowth of various nerve cells after injury.
Here are some of the signs you may have low B12 levels:
- Feeling constantly tired or fatigued
- Muscle aches or weakness
- Numbness or a feeling of pins and needles
- Shortness of breath or dizziness
- Poor concentration or memory loss
- Mood changes, like increased depression and anxiety
- Heart problems or palpitations
- Bleeding gums, a persistent sore tongue or frequent mouth ulcers
- Skin rashes
Who’s at higher risk of low B12?
- Older adults who tend to produce less stomach acid, which is needed to convert the vitamin properly.
- People with digestive disorders, like celiac or Crohn’s disease which inhibits absorption in the gut.
- People regularly taking indigestion medication, such as proton pump inhibitors, as these reduce stomach acid, needed for B12 absorption.
- People who don’t eat enough good quality meat and dairy products, as these are the main sources of B12 in our diet. If you change your diet, it may take several years for B12 levels to become depleted, because it is stored in the body and can take several years to become deficient.
- Smokers are at higher risk because nicotine can block absorption.
- Alcoholics tend to have inflammation of the digestive tract, which leads to poor absorption. There is also evidence that alcohol increases loss of B12 in urine.
- Low B12 is a risk factor for some cancers, so cancer patients may already be low in B12. In addition, treatments such as chemotherapy disrupt the digestion, which may reduce absorption of B12 in the gut.
What are the best food sources of B12:
- Grass-fed beef
- Organ meats
- Wild caught fish
- Nutritional yeast
- Organic, grass-fed dairy products
- Free-range eggs
What should you look for in a supplement?
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms or have identified one or more of the risk factors mentioned, you may benefit from supplementing your vitamin B12 intake, to see if some of the symptoms improve. If so, you should look for supplements which provide B12 in the form methylcobalamin, as this is the form found in food, which means it is more easily absorbed by the body.
A general recommended dose is 1000mcg a day, which you should take alongside 400mg of folic acid. If you are deficient, a higher dose of B12 may be needed and, in certain cases an injection may be necessary. Excess B12 is readily excreted in urine.