A lack of vitamin B12 can make you anaemic, cause nerve damage and psychiatric abnormalities, and even raise your risk of heart disease. When did you last have your levels checked?
In the early stages, vitamin B12 deficiency may cause numbness, tingling, poor balance or fatigue. Fortunately, these are all reversible. It’s the long-term lack of B12 that’s a serious cause for concern, since it can lead to irreversible brain damage.
An inadequate diet is one of the main reasons for low levels of B12, especially among vegans and vegetarians. Those over the age of 50 are at particular risk, as are people who are taking metformin medication for diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Where To Get B12
Very small amounts of vitamin B12 can be produced in the mouth and colon, but these are either insufficient to meet the daily requirement or too far down in the intestinal tract to be available for absorption, which occurs in the small intestine. Vitamin B12 needs to come regularly from either food, supplements or injections.
- Food: Animal products such as eggs and dairy can supply B12. Vegans need to use fortified plant foods such as soy milk, meat alternatives and yeast spreads. Unlike in the US, plant foods are not widely fortified with B12 in Australia. Mushrooms, fermented soy products and sea vegetables are unreliable sources, as they contain low or inactive forms for the human body.
- Supplements: The human body needs at least 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day, and even more for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Research shows that it’s more effective to use a supplement with a lower dose (5–10 micrograms) every day rather than taking a single high dose weekly.
- Injections may be required for people whose doctor has confirmed that they cannot absorb vitamin B12.
It’s a good idea for those who are over 50, who are taking metformin, or who are vegan (or vegetarians who consume little or no dairy) to check their blood levels of B12 annually.