Having a vitamin B12 deficiency can be dangerous and even deadly. More importantly, you might be low in this essential vitamin and not realize it.
How common is vitamin B12 deficiency? According to the National Institutes of Health, anywhere between 1.5 and 15 percent of Americans are currently diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency . However, this doesn’t take into account those who may not know their symptoms are related to a B12 deficiency, which can show up in different ways.
This article will look at what vitamin B12 is and why it’s necessary for the body, and the top signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, and how to make sure you get enough vitamin B12.
What is Vitamin B12 and What Does It Do in the Body?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin (meaning it can dissolve in water) crucial for many roles in the body, including:
- Cell metabolism
- Red blood cell creation
- DNA production
- Nerve function
- Fatty acid synthesis
- Energy production
Vitamin B12 has several scientific names, including cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and cobalamin.
What Happens When There’s Not Enough B12?
Problems develop when the body doesn’t get or absorb enough vitamin B12.
Some people are just not able to absorb vitamin B12 efficiently. The chance of this increases the older you get.
According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an estimated 3.2% of adults above the age of 50 have seriously low levels of B12, while up to 20% might have a borderline deficiency. In addition, about 20% of elderly people have been found to have a vitamin B12 deficiency .
Our bodies are able to store vitamin B12 for around two to four years on average , but not forever, so just because your body contained plenty of vitamin B12 a few years ago doesn’t mean it can’t be deficient now.
According to WebMD, other risk factors (besides getting older) for vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Heavy drinking and alcoholism
- A past of weight loss surgery
- Any operation that removed part of the stomach
- Any conditions that affect the small intestine, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, parasites, bacterial growth, or gastritis 
- Taking stomach acid-reducing medications like Prevacid or Prilosec
- Pernicious anemia, an autoimmune condition that makes it hard for the stomach to absorb vitamin B12
- Atrophic gastritis (inflammation and thinning of the stomach lining)
- Immune system disorders like lupus or Graves’ disease
- Eating a vegan diet, which is devoid of all animal products, or a vegetarian diet with little intake of eggs or dairy
Other medications that may reduce absorption of vitamin B12 include Metformin, Colchicine, and Aminosalicylic acid. Taking vitamin C with a vitamin B12 supplement can also decrease the amount of B12 absorbed by the body.
The truth is, no one is immune to the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. If you stop consuming enough B12 in your diet or become unable to absorb it properly for whatever reason, your stores may deplete faster than you realize.
Taking the right vitamin B12 supplement [link to CCL product] is a good way to insure yourself, as we’ll discuss more below. First, let’s cover some common symptoms that can indicate B12 deficiency.
Top 10 Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Sometimes vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms can start gradually and get worse over time, while others may appear pretty quickly. Deficiency can show up differently depending on the person, but below are some of the most common signs something is up.
1. Being Overly Tired or Fatigued
Fatigue is one of the first signs of B12 deficiency. In other words, you’re always tired, even if you get a good night’s sleep or plenty of rest.
Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells and carry oxygen to your cells. When not enough B12 is present, it can result in tiredness and fatigue no matter what you do.
2. Feeling Weaker than Usual
When there’s a lack of red blood cells bringing oxygen to your muscles, you can experience an unusual lack of strength. Muscle weakness and feeling sluggish are common signs of deficiency.
3. Being Anemic
Anemia, which is caused by a lack of red blood cells in the body, is the most common blood disorder, affecting 24.8 percent of the world’s population .
Symptoms of anemia can include:
- Chest pain
- Low energy and fatigue
- Shortness or breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pale or yellowing skin
Millions of red blood cells are made by the body every minute. Without vitamin B12, these cells can’t multiply as needed for healthy function. If vitamin B12 levels are too low, production of red blood cells drops, which can cause anemia .
4. “Pins and Needles” Feeling or Numbness
Think about how your skin goes numb and then tingles if your foot or arm fall asleep. Having that sensation, known as peripheral neuropathy, for seemingly no reason is a more severe sign of vitamin B12 deficiency caused by damage to the myelin sheath surrounding and protecting our nerves.
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, even a mild B12 deficiency can affect the nervous system and brain function. If untreated, this damage can become permanent.
5. Problems with Memory and Brain Fog
We all forget small details, lose our keys, and feeling confused sometimes—but issues with memory, reasoning, and brain fog happen often or seem severe, it may be a sign of B12 deficiency.
In older adults, these B12 deficiency symptoms have even been mistaken for aging-related diseases like dementia.
6. Unusually Pale or Yellow Skin
Lack of B12 can make red blood cells fragile and easily broken down. This releases bilirubin, a pigment that gives the skin a yellow hue, causing jaundice of the skin.
7. Dizziness or Coordination Issues
Being dizzy for having trouble walking is another possible symptom of B12 deficiency.
A study in Turkey comparing B12 levels of people suffering from dizziness with 100 healthy people found the dizzy patients to have 40% less B12 in their systems .
8. Struggling with Emotions and Mood Disturbances
Vitamin B12 is involved in synthesizing brain chemicals related to mood, including dopamine and serotonin. This could be one reason why a lack of B12 can cause problems with mood like anxiety or depression .
It is believed a deficiency of vitamin B12 may even increase the risk of cognitive impairment later in life .
9. Blurry or Double Vision
Extreme B12 deficiencies can clog blood vessels in the retinas of the eye or damage the optic nerve, leading to double or blurry vision, light sensitivity, or even loss of sight.
10. A Smooth, Red, Swollen Tongue
Glossitis is a condition where the tongue can become swollen, smooth, and red. Glossitis may be an early clinical sign of B12 deficiency . It may lead food to not taste as good and cause soreness, itchy or a burning feeling on the tongue.
How to Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The best way to prevent a deficiency of B12 is by ensuring you take and absorb it properly and regularly. The following sections will cover sources of vitamin B12 and how to supplement.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?
For the average adult or teen, 2.4 microgram (mcg) of vitamin B12 per day is recommended.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need higher levels, around 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg per day, respectively.
For children, recommended doses are as follows:
- Six months old or younger: 0.4 mcg
- 7-12 months old: 0.5 mcg
- 1-3 years old: 0.9 mcg
- 4-8 years old: 1.2 mcg
- 9-13 years old: 1.8 mcg
Taking higher doses than recommended amount is generally safe and not considered toxic . The body only uses what it needs and passes the rest through your urine.
While only a blood test can truly tell you whether or not you’re deficient in B12, those mentioned above are some of the most common signs. If you experience any of them, you may be at risk.
How and Where to Get Vitamin B12
Without vitamin B12 in our bodies, we would die. And even though it’s so crucial for health and life, our bodies don’t make vitamin B12 themselves—we must get it from food or supplements.
Food Sources of Vitamin B12
In food, vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. This comes from the animals eating B12. Some plant-based food sources are fortified with B12.
When Getting B12 From Food Isn’t Enough
Although animal foods contain B12, that doesn’t guarantee we’ll get enough or properly absorb it from eating them.
Some people simply don’t absorb B12 well from food, even if they eat sources of them daily. Other people who eat a more restrictive diet, such as vegans, may be lacking in proper dietary sources of B12.
In any case, supplementation should be considered. Even if you don’t have a vitamin B12 deficiency or suspect an absorption problem, supplementing is a good way to cover your bases and prevent future problems.
How to Treat Vitamin B12 Deficiency Naturally
There are several ways when it comes to vitamin B12 supplementation:
- Vitamin b12 patches
- Vitamin b12 liquid
- Fortified foods
It’s important to note that the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 is limited by something call intrinsic factor. In healthy people, only about 10 mcg is absorbed from a 500 mcg oral supplement . This is a problem for supplement options like multivitamin and fortified foods, where the other vitamins and minerals present may interfere with absorption further.
B12 injections are typically the go-to for severe cases of vitamin B12. Unfortunately, regular injections can be expensive and ongoing.
Vitamin B12 sprays are arguably the most effective way to get a large dose of B12 safely and efficiently, increasing the chance of absorbing the maximum amount. CCL Advanced Vitamin B12 Spray was developed for this exact reason. Grab a bottle for yourself here.