All the B vitamins are essential to human life. Vitamin B12, specifically, has a special role as the so-called “energy” vitamin. It also supports healthy neurological function and red blood cell production.
But according to a recent review of clinical trials, nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults may have vitamin B12 deficiency. And among older adults especially, rates are probably much higher.
You can develop a deficiency in vitamin B12 as a result of:
- Atrophic gastritis (chronic inflammation of the stomach, which leads to loss of cells lining the stomach)
- Crohn’s disease, also known as ulcerative colitis (part of irritable bowel syndrome)
- Following a poor diet with ultra-processed foods
- Following a vegan or vegetarian diet
- Gastric surgery (including surgery done for weight loss)
- Taking antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or metformin
Of course, the problem with metformin is particularly troubling, as many people take it to manage their Type II diabetes.
And while metformin does a good job of controlling blood sugar, it also interferes with the body’s absorption of vitamin B12. (Which was one reason why I declared my own independence from it on July 4, 2019, in favor of natural, botanical remedies.)
It’s easy to miss sneaky symptoms
The symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can be quite vague and easily confused with (or attributed to) other conditions. The symptoms can include:
- Swelling of the tongue
- Psychiatric disturbances
- Cognitive impairment and dementia-like disturbances
- Impairment to sense of smell
- Problems with balance and gait
Plus, a number of newer studies show that people with a chronic B12 deficiency also run a higher risk of developing a slew of very serious conditions—including cardiovascular disease.
Correcting a B12 deficiency just became much simpler
For a long time, doctors opted to give B12 injections to patients deficient in this key nutrient—rather than have them rely on oral supplementation, due to concerns that the human body doesn’t do a good job absorbing it orally. In fact, I remember my grandparents dutifully going to get their B12 shots.
But a recent study found that B12 supplements actually work far better than injections to correct B12 deficiencies…if you use the right doses. Plus, taking oral B12 is much less costly and more convenient than getting injections! And it’s certainly much easier to take a supplement versus getting a shot.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is a miniscule 2.4 mcg in adults. But, even for healthy adults, I recommend taking 20 mcg daily to support general metabolic health and 1,000 mcg daily for heart health. Of course, if you have any of the symptoms associated with vitamin B deficiency, as I just discussed, you may need larger doses.
Despite all this, the American Academy of Family Practice does not recommend routine screening adults for vitamin B12 deficiency. So, you may have to specifically request a test as part of your routine bloodwork.
Of course, many doctors have differing opinions as to what constitutes vitamin B12 deficiency. So, make sure to get a copy of your results and go over them with your doctors. According to my research, a level of 200 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL) or lower is deficient. Ideally, you want your B12 level to be above 500 pg/mL. If your levels are low, I encourage you to be proactive and discuss how to obtain (and maintain) optimal levels through supplementation.
You can learn more about the importance of vitamin B12 in the March 2018 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“WARNING: The silent—and dangerous—epidemic that’s strikingly common in older adults”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, it just takes one click!
“Studies of biomarker responses to intervention with vitamin B-12: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1981S-1996S.