B Smart and B Healthy — Know Your Vitamins

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps maintain the body’s nervous system, helps keep blood cells healthy, and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

What foods provide vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods. Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods including the following:

  • Beef liver and clams, which are the best sources of vitamin B12
  • Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, which also contain vitamin B12
  • Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and other food products that are fortified with vitamin B12. To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the product labels.

What kinds of vitamin B12 dietary supplements are available?

Vitamin B12 is found in almost all multivitamins. Dietary supplements that contain only vitamin B12, or vitamin B12 with nutrients such as folic acid and other B vitamins, are also available. Check the supplement facts label to determine the amount of vitamin B12 provided.

A prescription form of vitamin B12 can be administered as a shot. This is usually used to treat vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is also available as a prescription medication in nasal gel form.

Am I getting enough vitamin B12?

Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat. But some people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from food. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 1.5% and 15% of the public. Your doctor can test your vitamin B12 level to see if you have a deficiency.

Certain groups may not get enough vitamin B12 or have trouble absorbing it, such as:

  • Older adults, who do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach to absorb the vitamin B12 naturally present in food. People over 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 from fortified foods or dietary supplements because, in most cases, their bodies can absorb vitamin B12 from these sources.
  • People with pernicious anemia whose bodies cannot absorb vitamin B12. Doctors usually treat pernicious anemia with vitamin B12 shots, although very high oral doses of vitamin B12 might also be effective.
  • People who have had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight-loss surgery, or who have digestive disorders, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. These conditions can decrease the amount of vitamin B12 that the body can absorb.
  • Some people who eat little or no animal foods such as vegetarians and vegans. Only animal foods have vitamin B12 naturally. When pregnant women and women who breastfeed their babies are strict vegetarians or vegans, their babies might also not get enough vitamin B12.

What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 deficiency causes tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and megaloblastic anemia. Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur. Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system even in people who don’t have anemia, so it is important to treat a deficiency as soon as possible.

In infants, signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include failure to thrive, problems with movement, delays in reaching the typical developmental milestones, and megaloblastic anemia.

How much vitamin B12 do I need?

Vitamin B12 can interact or interfere with medicines that you take, and in some cases, medicines can lower vitamin B12 levels in the body. Talk with your physician or pharmacist for clarification. Also, tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other health care providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take. They can tell you if those dietary supplements might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.

The amount of vitamin B12 you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in micrograms (mcg):

Birth to 6 months 0.4 mcg
Infants 7–12 months 0.5 mcg
Children 1–3 years 0.9 mcg
Children 4–8 years 1.2 mcg
Children 9–13 years 1.8 mcg
Teens 14-18 years 2.4 mcg
Adults 2.4 mcg
Pregnant teens and women 2.6 mcg
Breastfeeding teens and women 2.8 mcg

 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!