Vitamin B-12 is a critical nutrient necessary for nerve, blood cell and DNA production. Deficiency can cause a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. This makes people feel very tired because the red blood cells can’t carry oxygen around the body as efficiently as they should. B-12 is only naturally found in foods of animal origin. These include:
- Beef liver
- Dairy products, fish, meat and eggs
B-12 is also called cyanocobalamin. It’s a deep pinkish-red color due to its cobalt content. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that the body doesn’t store it in fat. An adult human needs about 2.5 micrograms of B-12 daily. Symptoms of a deficiency of this nutrient are constipation, loss of appetite, fatigue, depression, confusion and a sore, red tongue. Deficient infants may develop a failure to thrive syndrome.
Some people don’t absorb this vitamin very well. This includes people over 50 because they tend to have lower hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach, which inhibit the absorption of B-12. People in this age group should take a B-12 supplement instead of relying on B-12 from dietary sources. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be sure to get enough B-12. If they do not, their babies may be deficient.
People who have had gastric bypass surgery have also had their intestines surgically altered, and this may prevent adequate amounts of the vitamin from being absorbed from either foods or supplements. The same is true for people with digestive conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Others have a condition called pernicious anemia. People with this condition cannot make a certain stomach protein called intrinsic factor. This factor is necessary for the body to absorb and utilize B-12. All these groups of people may need injections of vitamin B-12 to get enough of it to be healthy and avoid symptoms of deficiency. Since B-12 is only found naturally in animal foods, vegans will not be able to get enough B-12 from diet alone. The same may be true for some vegetarians. Both of these latter groups may also benefit from B-12 injections.
Certain medications can also interfere with vitamin B-12 activity. These are stomach reflux and ulcer drugs like omeprazole, famotidine and ranitidine. Because they work by reducing stomach acid, they can also prevent B-12 absorption. Metformin, a drug used to treat diabetes, and chloramphenicol, a powerful antibiotic, can also affect vitamin B-12 absorption.
Vitamin B-12 Injections
B-12 supplements are available as oral and sublingual tablets. It’s usually included in most multivitamin formulations, too. It’s also available by prescription as an injectable liquid. This is important for high-risk groups such as those previously discussed. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is serious. An infant with failure to thrive syndrome can even die. Liquid B-12 for injection is naturally a pinkish red color. It has not been dyed. Sometimes, it can cause the urine to temporarily turn pink. This is a harmless side effect that will soon disappear. The body will use the B-12 it needs and eliminate the rest.
To determine if you have a deficiency of B-12, your doctor will first do a blood test. If your blood B-12 levels are low, the next step is to find out if it’s a dietary problem or an absorption problem. If you fall into a high-risk group of people likely to have problems absorbing vitamin B-12, you will probably need B-12 injections for life to correct the deficiency and prevent it from recurring. There is no medical evidence that vitamin B-12 injections will increase athletic performance.
Your doctor will prescribe the correct amount of vitamin B-12 for you. He or she will monitor your blood levels and tell you how often you will need a B-12 injection to maintain a healthy blood level of the vitamin. Since B-12 does help to convert fats and proteins into energy, it’s very likely that a corrected deficiency would increase energy levels and make you feel better. Some possible side effects are headache, feelings of warmth or flushing, nausea and dizziness. Not everyone will experience these. B-12 has never been proven to be harmful.
If you’re concerned about B-12 deficiency, call us at 205-352-9141. Our professional staff can answer your questions and set up an appointment for you. We warmly welcome all new patients.