Vitamin B12 is one of the B vitamins. It is a water-soluble vitamin and difficult to acquire through diet. It’s important because it aids the body’s nervous system and assists in growth. It also helps the body to assimilate iron and aids in the production of the amino acid methionine and another B vitamin, known as choline. It is often referred to as the “energy vitamin” because it increases energy levels.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies don’t appear for about two years, and people who suffer from deficiencies can show symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, neurological problems, anemia, dementia, mood swings, irritability, and amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). Those people most at risk for vitamin B12 deficiencies include the following:
- Alcoholics and Smokers. Alcoholics and smokers often have malabsorption problems, which limits their body’s ability to absorb B12 properly.
- People Over 65. People 65 and older, as well as those who suffer from diarrhea, malabsorption syndromes, or peptic ulcer may not be absorbing vitamin B12 properly. This in part can be due to a reduction in an enzyme known as the “intrinsic factor,” which is necessary for B12‘s absorption, but is reduced as we age.
- People Taking Antacids or Laxatives. The American Family Physician reported at least 15 percent of adults over 65 were deficient in Vitamin B12 because of antacids or laxatives. They block the absorption of B12.
- Psychiatric Patients. Psychiatric patients regularly show deficiencies of B12. One study showed that approximately 12 percent of patients admitted into psychiatric units suffered from this deficiency and that it was primarily linked to a poor diet.
- Vegans and Vegetarians. Vegans or vegetarians who either don’t consume dairy products or don’t eat animal foods, are at risk to develop vitamin B12 deficiencies. Such deficiencies can sometimes be masked because of a vegan’s or vegetarian’s high folic acid intake, which works similar to vitamin B12, but if the deficiencies are not corrected, they can lead to irreversible nerve damage.
To avoid deficiencies in vitamin B12, you can take a good B complex vitamin, but it is best to eat a well balanced diet and include foods high in vitamin B12. These foods are primarily animal foods—yogurt, crab, oysters, and oily fish, such as trout or herring. If you show any of the symptoms listed above, visit your doctor and get tested for a deficiency because you want to correct it before it becomes an even bigger problem.