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Thousands of people in the US suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency; some questions people often have are, “How did my B12 levels get so low? I eat healthy and I don’t have any chronic illnesses, so how did I become anemic?” That’s a complex question to answer, because there are many ways that people become gradually deficient in this crucial B vitamin.
First, why is vitamin B12 important?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a water-soluble B vitamin that is essential for basic survival.
Vitamin B12 helps to keep your nervous system functioning normally, as it sustains myelin, a fatty coating that protects your nerve cells and enhances intercellular communication.
Vitamin B12 also supports a healthy metabolism in converting fuels into much-needed energy and synthesizing DNA.
Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, as it helps to maintain a healthy level of normal-sized functioning red blood cells for oxygen transportation to your brain, organs, and cell tissues throughout your body.
Vitamin B12 helps to control levels of homocysteine, a hormone that has been linked with increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.
How do you get vitamin B12?
So we know that vitamin B12 is important; now the question is, “What foods are high in vitamin B12?”
The richest sources of vitamin B12 are animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs.
Still, if you have vitamin B12 malabsorption, a common risk factor for vitamin B12 deficiency, then you must take supplemental forms of vitamin B12 in order to prevent pernicious anemia. (More on vitamin B12 malabsorption later.)
It’s always good to test for low vitamin B12, but the best way to know if you’re getting enough is by paying close attention to telltale symptoms of severe vitamin B12 deficiency.
Since vitamin B12 depletion happens slowly, you may not realize you’re experiencing a deficiency until you start to notice yourself always feeling tired, depressed, or just generally slower than usual.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of low vitamin B12:
Constant overbearing fatigue
You’re talking slower than normal
Painful numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Burning, sore red tongue
Difficulty walking in a straight line
Constantly dropping things
If you keep a vegan diet, or refrain from eating many animal-based foods, then you are a risk factor for vitamin B12 deficiency, simply because there are no vegetable-based foods that supply sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 to prevent anemia.
If you’re not a vegan, and you have no chronic illnesses, then you may still be at risk, as there are a number of medications that interfere with your ability to digest vitamin B12 naturally from foods, resulting in vitamin B12 malabsorption- a major cause of vitamin B12 depletion that often slips off the radar.
Some medications that lead to vitamin B12 malabsorption include:
Metformin (for diabetes)
Protein pump inhibitors (for acid reflux, heartburn)
If you have had a gastric bypass for weight loss, then you may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Also, gastrointestinal surgeries recommended for treating Crohn’s disease, such as removal of the ileum, necessitate frequent vitamin B12 supplementation in order to prevent pernicious anemia.
Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) from vitamin B12 deficiency is one of many ailments that occur with long-term alcohol abuse.
An underlying autoimmune disorder can also be the basis of low vitamin B12. Autoimmune intrinsic factor dysfunction causes your body to attack intrinsic factor, a digestive enzyme that bonds to vitamin B12 and helps to distribute it into your blood supply. People with autoimmune pernicious anemia cannot get vitamin B12 from foods, regardless of diet, and must use supplemental forms of vitamin B12 for survival.
If you have any other autoimmune disorder, such as celiac disease, fibromyalgia, or lupus, then your risk for autoimmune vitamin B12 deficiency is higher than normal.
Finally, any kind of damage to your stomach, intestines, or esophagus can interfere with your ability to absorb vitamin B12, increasing your chance for pernicious anemia. If you suffer from chronic heartburn, gas, and bloating, then that may be an important clue in determining why you often feel tired, anxious, or agitated.
Illnesses that cause frequent vomiting, such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s, are linked with comorbid vitamin B12 deficiency.
As we age, our bodies tend to slow down; that includes a reduction in the amount of digestive enzymes we produce- proteins needed to absorb vitamin B12. For many healthy individuals over 60, signs of depression and forgetfulness are often discounted as the first symptoms of senility, without even checking vitamin B12 levels.
For that reason, health experts recommend strict vitamin B12 supplementation for all senior citizens, even if they don’t think they need it, as the symptom don’t manifest themselves until vitamin B12 levels reach a dangerous low.
Don’t ignore symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, even if you are “healthy” and “normal.” Plenty of people have vitamin B12 deficiency, and don’t even know it- not until they start experiencing severe ailments.
Get a blood test, take your vitamin B12, and keep track of your mood and energy levels each day; this will be your best Richter scale for determining how much vitamin B12 you need in order to prevent anemia and maintain good health.
How does vitamin B12 benefit your body? Let us count the ways…vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that nourishes your body and mind. Here are some of the most mind-blowing benefits of vitamin B12 supplementation.
It controls your thinking skills, energy levels, mental health, and even symptoms of aging.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) benefits your nervous system, helping you sustain better muscle control and strength while avoiding symptoms of neuropathy (nerve damage) caused by vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is good for heart health, fertility, and DNA synthesis.
1) Vitamin B12 prevents brain fog and dizziness caused by low oxygen, as it aids in producing plenty of healthy red blood cells needed to carry oxygen throughout your body.
2) Vitamin B12 prevents pernicious anemia, a once-fatal condition that produces symptoms such as chronic fatigue, disorientation, memory loss, depression, muscle weakness, and painful tingling and numbness in the extremities.
3) Vitamin B12 protects the nervous system by supporting myelin, a fatty substance that protects your nerve cells and encourages efficient communication with the brain.
Symptoms of nerve cell damage (neuropathy) may include difficulty walking, numbness, vision problems, and slow or delayed reflexes.
4) Vitamin B12 promotes cardiovascular health by controlling homocysteine, a hormone associated with increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and mental illness.
In order to prevent homocysteine levels from rising, it’s important to sustain normal levels of vitamin B12.
5) Vitamin B12 promotes healthy cell growth, including preservation of the cell membrane. This is important for regulating healthy hormones and maintaining immune system integrity.
6) Vitamin B12 boosts energy, as it helps your body convert carbohydrates and fats into ATP- usable energy.
7) Vitamin B12 helps to delay symptoms of aging. In many oft-cited studies, elderly citizens who sustained healthy vitamin B12 levels were less likely than their peers to suffer from memory loss, confusion, depression, and other signs of dementia than their peers who had vitamin B12 deficiency.
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B12 deficiency makes you feel tired and unfocused, as if your brain is melting. It’s not your imagination- brain lesions from vitamin B12 deficiency, as seen through MRIs, are visible proof of the neurological damage caused when low vitamin B12 (cobalamin) levels turn into pernicious anemia.
Vitamin B12 and the Myelin Sheath
One of the many benefits of vitamin B12 includes its ability to protect your nerve cells from harm. Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds your brain and spinal cord nerves, forming a shield, or sheath, that allows neurons to send nerve impulse speedily and efficiently without exposing themselves to outside dangers. Vitamin B12 helps your body maintain your myelin sheath, thus ensuring continuous communication among your many nerve fibers.
With vitamin B12 deficiency, demyelination (the breaking down of myelin) occurs, resulting in slower nervous impulses and eventual neurological damage. Besides vitamin B12 deficiency, another illness that causes demyelination is multiple sclerosis (MS). Also read: Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Movement Disorders- How They Relate
Symptoms of demyelination
Some vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms that indicate nerve damage include:
Painful tingling and numbness in hands and feet
Poor muscular control
Poor bladder control
Brain lesions caused by vitamin B12 deficiency
Several scientific studies have proven that the appearance of “cerebral white-matter lesions” in an MRI may indicate nerve damage caused by vitamin B12 deficiency.
In a 2009 study on plasma vitamin B12 and brain lesions, scientists attributed elevated homocysteine levels (a side effect of vitamin B12 deficiency) to a high correlation of white-matter brain lesions, noting a steady increase of severe brain lesions with declining levels of vitamin B12 in the blood.
In a separate report on encephalomyelopathy due to vitamin B12 deficiency, a 39-year-old man who had pernicious anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency was admitted to hospital after suffering seizures, partial paralysis, vision problems, gait ataxia, and numbness in his extremities (legs, feet, arms, and hands). Anti-epilepsy drugs reduced some of the symptoms, but not all.
Scientists then discovered multiple brain lesions in his MRI, and prescribed vitamin B12 supplements.
Supplementation of vitamin B12 provided the significant results that the scientists were expecting.
Scientists concluded that vitamin B12 deficiency should be considered as a cause of seizures, in addition to epilepsy.
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Have you had your B12 levels checked?
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If you have vitamin B12 deficiency, then it’s crucial that you take vitamin B12 for stamina, mental alertness, athletic performance, and minor pain relief. Untreated, B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage, fatigue, decreased energy, memory loss, depression, and anxiety.
But what if you don’t have B12 deficiency? According to many cited studies, the benefits of vitamin B12 in boosting energy and sports performance to people who don’t have vitamin B12 deficiency are still abundant.
Why you need vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) performs many important, necessary biochemical functions in your body…
Vitamin B12 aids in DNA synthesis, so that your red blood cells develop normally. Without vitamin B12, your red blood cells become deformed, and are unable to leave your bone marrow, and stay there, resulting in insufficient oxygen throughout your body and causing chronic fatigue and low energy.
Vitamin B12 protects your nerves by helping to maintain your myelin sheathe, which insulates each nerve cell. Without B12, your nerve cells would be exposed and vulnerable, resulting in severe neurological damage such as peripheral neuropathy.
Vitamin B12 is used to convert proteins and carbohydrates into energy. Without sufficient vitamin B12, you experience symptoms like fatigue, attention problems, muscular feebleness, irritability, and brain fog.
Vitamin B12 helps your body repair cells. Researchers who studied athletic performance with vitamin B12 deficiency noticed a high correlation of poor energy levels, decreased sports performance, torn muscles, and inability to build proper muscle tone. But after vitamin B12 supplementation, scientists noticed increased stamina, improved muscle tone, and restored athletic abilities.
Vitamin B12- the energy vitamin
In a famous study focusing on the use of high-dose vitamin B12 in the cyanocobalamin form for sustaining energy levels, scientists found that supplementing with 2,500-5,000 mcg of vitamin B12 every few days (far exceeding the RDA for vitamin B12) resulted in 50%-80% increase in stamina, mental alertness, and general feelings of wellbeing after only a few weeks.
In a double-blind crossover study focusing on vitamin B12 for treating tiredness, people who had low energy but did not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency or chronic fatigue syndrome were given 5,000 mcg of vitamin B12 or a placebo two times per day for two weeks.
While the placebo had no effect, tired individuals who received the vitamin B12 injections noticed a significant increase in energy, mental focus, and improved mood.
Similarly, a separate study on people with normal vitamin B12 levels found that regular supplementation of high-dose vitamin B12 resulted in significantly better mood, increased energy, and improved cognitive functioning, versus the placebo, which had no effect on mood or energy.
In this study, doses varied from 3,000 mcg of vitamin B12four times per week to 9,000 mcg of vitamin B12 per day.
How much vitamin B12 do I need?
The USRDA for vitamin B12 for healthy individuals ranges from .4 mcg -2.8 mcg of vitamin B12. However, that’s not nearly enough to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency, the standard prescribed vitamin B12 shot amounting to 1000 mcg per week. And that’s just to prevent neurological damage and cognitive impairments.
To maintain healthy energy levels with vitamin B12 (even if you’re not deficient) you might need to take anywhere upwards of 3,000 mcg of B12, several times a week. Since there is no upper limit established for vitamin B12 supplementation, there’s no danger of overdosing on B12.
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The elderly need to increase their intake of vitamin B12, in order to avoid memory loss from vitamin B12 deficiency. Brain loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is sometimes a part of the aging process, but by getting enough vitamin B12 in your blood, you can prevent suffering the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Chicago study links low levels of vitamin B12 with memory loss
A 2011 study that focused on 121 community-dwelling participants of the Chicago Health and Aging Project found a strong correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and memory loss. Scientists measured methylmalonate levels to determine vitamin B12 deficiency.
They found a direct relationship between low levels of vitamin B12, reduced brain volume, and decreased cognitive skills, such as loss of short-term memory.
Scientists noted poorer memory skills, slower thinking processes, and impaired comprehension skills as attributes associated with elevated methylmalonate levels- an indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Also considered were plasma homocysteine levels, which scientists also connected with loss of brain mass. High levels of homocysteine are common in vitamin B12 deficiency.
Scientists concluded that methylmalonate, an indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency, has a direct impact on brain volume, and that vitamin B12 has multiple benefits on brain chemistry beyond just memory skills.
In 2008, a UK study conducted by the University of Oxford produced similar results; namely, that vitamin B12 deficiency is a likely cause of brain atrophy, dementia, and short-term memory loss among the elderly.
For the elderly, eating foods with vitamin B12 isn’t enough
Eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin B12 is always a good idea; such foods include protein sources like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese. But for the elderly, the problem isn’t really eating enough sources of vitamin B12, but rather digesting them. Part of the aging process involves making less stomach acids that are necessary for absorbing vitamin B12 from foods. As a result, many elderly individuals who include meat in their diet still run a high risk for getting B12 deficiency.
Unless blood tests indicate healthy levels of vitamin B12, senior citizens must supplement with vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) with a routine prescribed B12 shot in order to avoid the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Memory loss in B12 deficiency for the young and old
It isn’t just the elderly who should be concerned with memory loss- short-term memory loss is one of many symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, regardless of age.
Is there any connection between lupus and vitamin B12 deficiency? That’s a question asked often both by people with low B12 and diagnosed systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Both autoimmune diseases share similar symptoms, and it’s important to know how to tell the difference.
Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease that can cause damage to your muscles, bones, organs, and skin tissue. Like other autoimmune disorders, lupus causes your body’s immune system to attack healthy cells tissue, causing swelling, inflammation, and pain. Damage to your system may include kidney damage, heart attack, lung damage, joint pain, and blood diseases such as anemia (more on this later).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the US. Even if you eat plenty of sources rich in vitamin B12 (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and milk), your B12 levels may be at risk if you have had bariatric surgery, take antacid medicine for acid reflux, are among the elderly, have a gastrointestinal autoimmune disease like Crohn’s or celiac disease, or if you are a diabetic taking metformin.
Many symptoms of lupus mimic those of vitamin B12 deficiency, making it difficult to determine low B12 levels without taking a vitamin B12 blood test.
Cognitive functioning and mood disorders. Anxiety, depression, headaches, and short-term memory loss are symptoms common to both lupus patients and vitamin B12 deficiency sufferers.
Chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue shares a comorbid relationship with lupus and B12 deficiency.
Nerve damage. Vitamin B12 deficiency causes neurological damage such as aching joints and arthritis-like muscular pain. Lupus causes swollen joints, arthritis, and inflamed joints.
Shortness of breath is a symptom of low B12 and lupus.
Hair loss. B12 deficiency may cause premature hair loss and greying. Hair loss is also a symptom common to lupus patients.
Mouth ulcers are typical for vitamin B12 patients and lupus sufferers.
Skin rashes are a side effect of chronic B12 deficiency. Likewise, lupus patients suffer skin rashes across the cheeks and nose (malar rash).
Anemia. One of the most highly correlated symptoms shared by vitamin B12 deficiency patients and lupus patients alike is the susceptibility to anemia. Left untreated, pernicious anemia from vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to severe nerve damage, red blood cell depletion, and cognitive impairments. More than half of all lupus patients suffer from blood disorders like anemia.
Heart disease. Lupus and pernicious anemia patients alike are at high risk for contracting heart disease.
Bone loss (osteoporosis) is a risk factor for lupus patients and individuals with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Read more about B12 deficiency and autoimmune diseases:
For years, vitamin B12 has been the staple energy vitamin for stars such as Madonna, Justin Timberlake, and Prince. Now, B12 vitamins are part of Glee star Lea Michele’s regimen against vitamin B12 deficiency. Find out why celebrities such as Lea Michele rely on B12 supplements for added stamina, strength, and mental focus.
The Glee star’s secret to weight loss
How does Lea Michele, who plays the bossy, competitive, (and sometimes infuriating) Rachel on Glee keep her figure? Recently, she confessed to following a strictly macrobiotic vegan diet, composed of mostly vegetables, grains, and beans. By cutting out meat, chicken, and dairy products from her diet, Lea has managed to lose ten pounds since she first started filming on the set.
Lea admits to also eating a few servings of fish per week, in order to avoid getting vitamin B12 deficiency. Since Vitamin B12 occurs only in animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk, supplementing with extra vitamin B12 is crucial for avoiding low B12 blood levels. How does she justify introducing a non-vegan source into her vegan diet? Apparently, macrobiotic veganism makes special allowances for seafood. Lea Michele understands that a diet low in vitamin B12 is a diet that leads to B12 deficiency symptoms.
People who deplete their stores of vitamin B12 encounter symptoms such as extreme fatigue, muscular weakness, depression, diminished coordination, memory loss, and frequent numbness or tingling sensations (pins and needles) in their hands, arms, legs, and feet. Untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency may escalate into severe memory loss, neurological damage, osteoporosis, and increased risk for heart attack, and stroke.
Vitamin B12 supplements essential as part of your weight loss program. What are the benefits of vitamin B12 for weight loss? Vitamin B12 boosts metabolism, in addition to providing energy and stabilizing your mood.
Vitamin B12 contains cobalt; together, the minerals that make up vitamin B12, cobalamin, are essential coenzymes that increase metabolism by converting food to energy in the body. In diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency, researchers often take into account changes in the metabolic rate, in addition to measuring levels of B12 and homocysteine.
“Elevated methylmalonic acid levels might be a more reliable indicator of vitamin B12 status because they indicate a metabolic change that is highly specific to vitamin B12 deficiency.” - National Institutes of Health
People with high metabolisms tend to lose weight more quickly and efficiently than others who have slower metabolic rates. In order to burn fat at an optimal rate, it is essential to maintain healthy stores of vitamin B12.
B12 boosts energy
If you have symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, then you experience symptoms such as tiredness, muscular weakness, decreased motor skills, and lack of energy.
Unfortunately, many people who suffer symptoms of low B12 don’t even know it. Often, comorbid conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), or hypothyroidism (low thyroid) mask the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency. So, despite taking treatments such as antidepressants, insulin, thyroid medications, or pain relievers, they continue to feel sad and tired all the time, battling with constant “brain fog” without knowing why.
Increasing your energy level provides mental focus, determination, and emotional wellness, in addition to improving your quality of life. These things together assure weight loss success by enabling you to stick to a workout routine, increase your sports performance and stamina, challenge yourself in the gym, and stay on track.
B12 boosts mood
Common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety, paranoia, and unusually aggressive behavior. When you are in a bad mood, you are more likely to make poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drug use, oversleeping, eating fattening, salty or sugary foods, and sedentary activities like television watching and playing video games.
Scientists have proven a high correlation between depression and weight gain. If you feel sluggish, depressed, or more fatigued than usual, then you are statistically less likely to follow an exercise regimen or commit yourself to a new weight loss diet.
Only by taking vitamin B12 supplements can you begin to recover from symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and achieve an overall sense of well-being.
Did you know that Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins for bones? Osteoporosis is one of many illnesses triggered by vitamin B12 deficiency. Studies prove that elderly individuals who maintain high levels of vitamin B12 are less likely to suffer from fractured or broken bones than those who neglect to supplement with vitamin B12 shots.
What is the cause of osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis happens with age for millions of Americans- there exist many factors that cause loss of bone mass, brittle bones, and other symptoms of osteoporosis. Low calcium absorption is one cause of broken bones and fractured hips in old age, but other causes include:
Estrogen deficiency in women
Testosterone deficiency in men
Smoking and alcohol use
Vitamin deficiency, including calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12
What is B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs from neglecting to eat a diet rich in sources of vitamin B12, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk, but it can occur if your body is unable to extract vitamin B12 from foods that you eat. Such is the case for millions of individuals, either because
(a) they lack “intrinsic factor,” a protein required for digesting vitamin B12 naturally from foods
(b) because of drug interactions, such as metformin for diabetes, or
(c) because of post-gastrectomy complications that resulted in pernicious anemia.
Unless treated, B12 deficiency causes red blood cell depletion, neurological damage, dementia, osteoporosis, malnourishment, and increased risk for heart attack, stroke.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are:
Numbness and tingling sensations in hands and feet
Altered taste perception
Red, swollen tongue
Unusually pale complexion
What do studies say about the benefits of vitamin B12?
In a study conducted by Tufts University that focused on low-plasma vitamin B12 and bone mineral density (BMD), researchers found that men who had the lowest levels of B12 in their blood also had the lowest bone mineral density, particularly in their hipbones. Similarly, women who suffered vitamin B12 deficiency exhibited severely low BMD in their spine.
They concluded that vitamin B12 deficiency is a significant risk factor for osteoporosis, which explains why the loss of bone mass occurs so frequently among the elderly:
As you age, your body produces fewer stomach acids needed for digesting vitamins and minerals.
As a result, many senior citizens develop vitamin deficiencies, including B12 deficiency. Since they are unable to absorb B12 through the digestive system, they must therefore deposit it directly into the bloodstream.
Another study by the University of Michigan recognized severe osteoporosis as correlating strongly with pernicious anemia-vitamin B12 deficiency.
What are the best vitamins for osteoporosis?
It is crucial to eat a diet rich in all essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to taking regular vitamin supplements. The best vitamins for bonesare vitamin D and vitamin B12.
If you suspect you have vitamin B12 deficiency, then ask your doctor for a blood test. If diagnosed, then you will require routine vitamin B12 supplements until your B12 levels are back to normal.
Read more about preventing vitamin B12 deficiency:
Vitamin B12 benefits your nervous system and many other biochemical reactions; Find out how Vitamin B12 supplements can help you live a healthier lifestyle.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B-12 (Cobalamin) is an essential nutrient that occurs naturally in protein food sources, such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. The B12 vitamin is one of the B-complex vitamins. Other B vitamins are vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamin B3 (niacin).
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily functions. B12 helps your body produce red blood cells, regulates your nervous system, boosts your immunity, and protects cognitive functioning. Some other benefits of vitamin B12 include lowering your risk for heart attack and stroke by regulating homocysteine levels.
The best way to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet is by eating plenty of lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Foods that have the highest levels of vitamin B12 are clams, oysters, beef liver, and halibut.
However, eating B12-rich foods does not guarantee against vitamin B12 deficiency. Some people are unable to digest B12 naturally from foods, and must take B12 supplements in order to avoid symptoms of malnourishment, such as fatigue, depression, irritability, numbness in hands and feet, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.
Most physicians prescribe vitamin B12 shots,sublingual B12, or b12 vitamins after diagnosing B12 deficiency.