According to data from Tufts University, 40% of Americans between the ages of 26 and 83 are either deficient or in the low-normal range for vitamin B12.
It is a common misconception that those who eat meat and/or dairy will somehow get enough of the vitamin through their food choices, but this is simply not the case.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can have serious consequences.
According to integrative medicine specialist Chris Kresser, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to the following issues:
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline and memory loss (collectively referred to as “aging”)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological disorders
- Mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Learning or developmental disorders in kids
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Autoimmune disease and immune dysregulation
- Male and female infertility
Kresser has also stated that many people with so-called “normal” vitamin B12 levels may be experiencing symptoms of deficiency, which has led him to question whether or not humans need more than the recommended amount.
Some people have low levels of vitamin B12 because they suffer from something known as pernicious anemia, which means your immune system turns on your stomach’s healthy cells, making it impossible to digest the vitamin.
Others may have trouble absorbing the vitamin due to medication they are taking, specifically for those taking anticonvulsants.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be treated quite easily, but it is important that if you think you may be deficient, or borderline deficient, you get your levels tested immediately.
While most problems associated with low levels of B12 are temporary, the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK emphasizes that some side effects are permanent.
If the B12 deficiency is severe enough, it can cause heart failure and birth defects.
- extreme tiredness
- a lack of energy
- pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- a sore and red tongue
- mouth ulcers
- muscle weakness
- disturbed vision
- psychological problems, which may include depression and confusion
- problems with memory, understanding and judgement
It is recommended that each adult gets in at least 2.4 micrograms of B12 per day, however if you are low on the vitamin, your doctor may prescribe a high dose shot or high dose vitamins.
In order to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet, you can take a supplement (most daily vitamins do contain an adequate level) or you can eat a healthy well-rounded diet that includes beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry and eggs, all of which are high in vitamin B12
It should be noted that strictly plant foods do not naturally have vitamin B12 in them, unless they have been fortified like nutritional yeast and some cereals.