CDC/ Debora Cartagena
Vitamin B12 deficiency may seem like a oddly specific problem to be concerned about. But as it turns out, being low in vitamin B12 is a much more serious health issue than you might think. Experts estimate that 3.2 percent of adults over age 50 are severely low in B12, while up to 20 percent might have a borderline deficiency, according to Harvard Medical School.
So why is vitamin B12 important? Well, everyone needs it in order to make red blood cells, which provide oxygen to the body’s tissues. Like many vitamins, B12 is not made naturally in the body, which means you have to get it through food or supplements. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, healthy adults should aim to get 2.4 micrograms of B12 per day. Most people are able to easily reach this amount by regularly eating meat, fish, and dairy products.
However, some folks following a plant-based eating plan struggle with this; as healthy as fruits and vegetables are, they don’t contain vitamin B12. If you’re not getting enough B12 in your diet — or if you have a condition like celiac or Crohn’s disease that prevents you from absorbing enough B12 — you could potentially be at risk for serious health issues later on, such as nerve damage and blood diseases. That's why it's important to keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of vitamin B12 deficiency, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Common Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- Loss of appetite
- Problems with balance
- Tiredness and weakness
- Poor memory and confusion
- Soreness of the mouth or tongue
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
If you suspect you might be low in vitamin B12, talk to your doctor. You’ll need a blood test to confirm the condition. If it turns out that you’re seriously low in the vitamin, you may need to take B12 pills or take shots of the vitamin as a treatment, according to Medline Plus. But the good news is that for most healthy adults, there are a few simple ways to prevent being low in vitamin B12 in the first place.
How to Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- Eat foods high in vitamin B12. Beef liver and clams are the absolute best sources of vitamin B12, but other types of fish and meat, along with eggs, milk, and other dairy products also contain B12, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you happen to be following a more plant-based diet, you should look into foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as some breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts.
- Consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement. If you’re struggling to get enough vitamin B12 through food, the good news is that it can be found in almost all multivitamins. There are also supplements available that primarily include vitamin B12, such as Nature Made Vitamin B12 - 500 mcg. Tablets - Value Size 200-Ct. ($11.42, Amazon). Remember, always talk to your doctor before trying any new supplement.
- Get your B12 level checked regularly if any of these descriptions apply to you: You have a condition that affects the way you absorb food; you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan; or you’ve had stomach stapling or another type of weight-loss surgery in the past.
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