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As long as you're fairly young and healthy and eat a diet that includes animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy foods), you probably get enough vitamin B12. But you're at risk for a deficiency if you're a vegetarian; you're over 50; you lack a substance called intrinsic factor, which allows B12 to be absorbed into the bloodstream; or you have a gastrointestinal disorder or have had gastrointestinal surgery.
It's estimated that up to 15% of Americans have a B12 deficiency, which can lead to a variety of problems, including anemia, loss of balance, weakness, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. B12 injections are the typical treatment, but oral supplements can also work for patients who are able to absorb B12. Foods fortified with B12, including many breakfast cereals, can also help.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that is particularly important for your heart health. It’s found in animal products such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. And although B12 isn’t naturally found in plant foods, many foods (such as some cereals and soy beverages) are fortified with it. If you’re a strict vegetarian, you should eat fortified foods daily -- or take a supplement.
Vitamin B12, which is required for proper brain function and a host of chemical reactions within the body, is found naturally only in animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk), but many fortified cereals contain the synthetic form. Vegans, who avoid all animal-based foods, need to ensure they get enough of this vitamin through fortified foods or supplements. About 6% of people ages 60 and older are deficient in vitamin B12, and nearly one in five is borderline deficient. As you age, it often becomes harder to absorb enough B12 from food. This problem usually reflects a lack of stomach acid, which liberates B12 from food. But since this stomach acid isn't needed for your body to absorb B12 from supplements or fortified foods, you can avoid a deficiency by getting enough B12 from these sources.
For many Americans, including vitamin B12-rich foods and fortified foods can help them easily meet their needs. However, supplements and injections can be another option for people who already have or are at higher risk for deficiency. There are numerous vitamins, lozenges, dissolving oral tablets, lollipops and patches that deliver adequate amounts of B12, so choose a method that works for you, and be sure it provides the dose you are looking for. If you have a B12 deficiency, injections can also be very effective, as they provide an immediate boost of energy and help to correct the deficiency. However, they tend to be more expensive and you need to visit a doctor or healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss all of your options and choose the one that is the best fit for your health needs, budget and lifestyle.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.