Earlier this month, a friend of mine barely avoided a nasty fall when she passed out during a hiking trip. Her diagnosis? B12 deficiency. Once she learned the symptoms, she realized it had been progressing for months unnoticed, and her experience isn’t rare. It’s time to put B12 in the spotlight.
Vitamin B12 is vital for your nervous system and for creating DNA and RNA, the building blocks of every cell in your body. You need B12 to maintain everything from your mood to your digestion. Yet many people have no idea about the signs and symptoms of low B12.
In fact, a B12 deficiency can go undiagnosed for years, despite causing difficult symptoms like extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle weakness. If you keep forgetting your to-do list or have trouble finding the right words, pay attention. The same goes for any numbness or tingling in your hands and feet.
It’s easy to miss the signs of B12 deficiency or chalk them up to stress or busyness. But if one or more of the following are true for you, it’s time to take notice:
The only way to get vitamin B12 in your diet is by eating meat. If you avoid animal products, then a B12 deficiency is guaranteed without supplementing. In fact, that’s a big part of how the “pale, weak vegan” stereotype came to be: chronic B12 deficiency causes pale skin and weakness. No need to abandon your diet preferences or moral choices, but do take B12 every day.
Age brings wisdom and freedom, but unfortunately, it also hampers your ability to absorb B12 from your diet. Not only are you more likely to have a B12 deficiency as you get older, symptoms of B12 deficiency like memory changes or a lack of stamina are more easily missed. If you (or someone you care for) are over the age of 50, taking a quality B12 supplement offers the best chance of staying fit and strong.
If you always have a glass of wine with dinner or a nightcap before bed, then your stores of B12 are likely to be low. That’s because your liver plays a crucial role in storing B12. Enjoy your Pinot noir and nights out with your friends, but take B12 when you get home.
Whether you take a little purple pill or have had an ulcer in the past, stomach problems and the medications used to treat them prevent your body from absorbing B12. Research is only now revealing the full connection, but studies have proven this much is true: if you’re treating acid reflux, you should be taking B12.
Blood sugar issues and disorders like Hashimoto’s or lupus mean your body is less likely to absorb B12 from your diet. Even if you’re a regular meat-eater, you’ll probably still need to take a B12 supplement to maintain healthy levels.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can make you feel awful, and it’s been linked to a number of scary diagnoses. Low B12 levels can increase your risk for heart disease, and they’ve also been linked to depression and anxiety disorders, as well as symptoms of Alzheimer’s, autism, and mental illness.
Bottom line: B12 deficiency can be devastating, and it’s easily avoidable. Supplementing is quick and incredibly safe; because B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, your body uses what you need and your kidneys simply flush away the rest, without any side effects.
The most effective way to take a B12 supplement is sublingually or as a shot. Since most people don’t like the idea of injections, a sublingual supplement is the simple answer. (“Sublingual” just means using drops or a lozenge that melts in your mouth. It’s especially useful for people who don’t absorb B12 well in their stomachs because of medication use or other digestive issues.)
If any of the five categories above apply to you—and especially if more than one applies!—consult your healthcare practitioner today about taking B12.