If it seems like your good health choices often lead to unanticipated negative consequences, such as when exercise causes muscle pain, then here’s just one more example. Though anyone can suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, this important vitamin is derived from bacteria that lives in animals’ stomachs. If you don’t eat animal products and steer clear of foods supplemented with vitamin B12, you’re in danger of B12 deficiency—a health epidemic with rates as high as 20% among some age groups.
What does Vitamin B12 do?
B12 performs a number of functions you might never think about till they stop working. B12 helps manufacture red blood cells and DNA. It also helps support a healthy brain and nervous system, so a long-term B12 deficiency can cause a host of health problems that are hard to ignore. If you’re only moderately deficient in B12, symptoms may be more subtle, allowing the deficiency to steadily chip away at your good health.
Causes of B12 Deficiency
Most B12 deficiencies are the result of dietary imbalances. Because B12 is derived from animals, deficiency in this vitamin is especially common among vegetarians. Some other factors that raise your risk of a B12 deficiency include:
- atrophic gastritis
- surgery to remove a portion of the small intestine
- medical conditions that harm the stomach lining, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac
- autoimmune conditions
- prolonged use of acid-reducing medications
- fertility problems such as repeated miscarriages or difficulty getting pregnant
Signs of a B12 deficiency
The only way to reliably assess whether you have a B12 deficiency is to consult with your doctor. Some symptoms to monitor include:
- rapid breathing or heart rate
- dizziness or weakness
- pale skin
- chronic gastrointestinal problems
- a sore tongue
- easily bruising
- gums that frequently bleed
- unexplained weight loss
Note that a number of conditions can produce these symptoms, so you should not diagnose yourself with a B12 deficiency. Talk to your doctor first.
How to get enough B12
Most people need 2.6mcg of B12 each day, except for lactating women, who require slightly higher doses of 2.8mcg per day. B12 is a potent vitamin, so steer clear of substances that greatly exceed this recommendation. Instead, try to get B12 from animal sources. Lean meats, such as grilled chicken, lean beef, and fresh fish can help you stay healthy without causing you to gain weight. If you’re a vegetarian or want to avoid eating animal products, consider taking a B12 supplement instead. Alternatively, look for foods fortified with this important vitamin. Many breakfast cereals, protein shakes, and health foods contain added B12.