Could You Have a B12 Deficiency?
It's important to eat food sources that contain vitamin B12 to avoid a B12 deficiency. People over 50 may need to eat more fortified foods or take a dietary supplement.
Aug 21, 2018Nutrition & Movement
Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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Our body is a pretty smart and amazing machine. To function properly, it works in an intricate and carefully timed dance interconnected with organs, muscles, nerves and tissues that helps it circulate, digest, breathe and propel functions necessary to sustain life. No part of the body works in isolation, and each part is responsible for doing its part.
Yet, there are certain things that our bodies don't automatically do, and one is absorbing the vitamin B12 that the body produces. B12 helps keep your nerve and blood cells healthy and is important for making DNA (our cell's genetic material). It also helps prevent a specific type of anemia (megaloblastic anemia) that causes fatigue and weakness.
Fortunately, there are ways to get this vitamin naturally: animal-based foods like beef, liver and clams are two of the best sources. Additional sources include fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products, as well as foods fortified with B12, like some breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts. (Unlike other B vitamins, there's no requirement that B6 and B12 be added to refined grains. A quick check of the food label can tell you if vitamin B12 has been added.)
Because the body doesn't store B12 for long, it's important to get some regularly.
Additionally, to absorb this vitamin, your body needs two things: hydrochloric acid in your stomach to break down the vitamin from the protein to which its attached in food, and the ability to bind with a protein called intrinsic factor, which is made by your stomach.
While most of us get enough vitamin B12 from the foods we eat, between 1.5 percent and 15 percent of people have a deficiency. A B12 deficiency can be detected by a simple blood test.
Here are some reasons why a deficiency may occur:
Because your body needs this vitamin to function properly, a vitamin B12 deficiency can have some unpleasant side effects. Among them:
Most adults need about 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 each day. If you're not getting enough through the food you eat, you can get it through supplements. Most multivitamins contain a small amount of B12, and there are dietary supplements that contain vitamin B12 alone or combined with nutrients like folic acid and other B vitamins.