You may have heard of B12, but why is it so important? For starters, B12 is a nutrient required to maintain blood and nerve cell health, and assists in making DNA. However, our body does not produce B12 on its own, so the only way to get it is through our diet.
The media often claims that B12 can boost energy levels, prevent heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, the evidence is not strong enough to support these claims. Nonetheless, B12 is still vital for our health - as insufficient intake can cause severe neurological problems and blood diseases, such as Megaloblastic anemia. Including more B12 in your diet naturally, or through supplementation, can help prevent these problems.
What Foods Have B12?
Most animal products including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products
Clams and beef liver are considered the best sources
Some fortified foods like breakfast cereals, breads, grains
Why We Need B12:
B12 plays a major role in the formation of red blood cells, maintenance of nerve cell health and the development of DNA. In addition, B12 can help with:
Megaloblastic Anemia prevention: Since B12 helps our body produce red blood cells, a lack of B12 can cause irregular shaped and larger than normal red blood cells. Symptoms include fatigue and weakness because red blood cells are unable to carry oxygen throughout the body properly.
Birth Defect Prevention: B12 is vital during pregnancy for brain and nervous system development of a fetus. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that if a mother’s B12 levels were lower than 250mg/dL, she is three times more likely to give birth to a child with birth defects compared to a mother with normal values.
Are You Getting Enough B12?
It can be easy to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), especially if consuming animal products. For example, 3 ounces of cooked ground beef contains 2.4 mcg of B12. From the chart below, you can see that you would meet your daily B12 needs from eating that alone!
RDA for Life Stages:
However, deficiencies can still occur. The most common causes are vegetarianism or veganism and weight loss surgery, but there may be other reasons why someone isn’t getting enough B12. A blood test can determine if you are deficient, and a physician may recommend consuming more B12 fortified foods or supplementation.
The following populations may need additional B12 supplementation:
Veganism/Vegetarianism: These individuals do not get enough B12 because they consume little to no animal products and B12 is not found in plant-based foods. B12 is especially important for vegan or vegetarian women who are pregnant or breastfeeding since B12 is transferred to the baby through the placenta and breastfeeding.
Weight loss surgery: Gastric surgery or weight loss surgery may cause difficulties absorbing B12 because less stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid, is produced making it difficult for the body to break it down during digestion.
Older adults: Adults 50+ may also produce less hydrochloric acid, making it more difficult for the body to break down and absorb B12.
Certain medications including proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers can interfere with B12 absorption.
What About B12 Supplements?
While most people in the U.S. get the recommended amount of B12, there are certain populations that may need supplementation. This is either from not getting enough B12 in the diet or problems absorbing the B12 in the foods that you eat. B12 supplements either come in the form of a pill or injection if there are absorption issues.
The Bottom Line
B12 is vital for our health, and our bodies rely solely on our diets to meet its requirements. While most of the population is getting enough from their diet, some individuals, like vegans or older adults, may require additional supplements if they are not meeting the dietary requirements. By knowing if you may be at risk for a B12 deficiency, you can take appropriate action and make a stand for your health!
Written by: Jessica Beavers, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern