You’re run down. Incredibly anxious. And you feel distracted by everything. Here’s why you should get your B12 levels checked.
Studies show 15% of people are B12 deficient, and nearly 40% are borderline. That’s a major loss because the nutrient is a powerhouse – charged with helping to make DNA, keeping nerve and blood cells healthy, and helping to deliver fresh oxygen to organs. And when your body is tight on O2, you’ll feel wiped out all the time, no matter how many Zs you log.
Yet many women with a deficiency go undiagnosed for not only months, but years. Also, B12 levels aren’t usually checked in routine blood work, and it’s easy to chalk up symptoms of a deficiency to stress or busyness. So, should you be supplementing?
A Growing Population At Risk
Vegetarians & Vegans: Most people eat enough B12 from natural sources – meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. That means vegetarians and vegans are most prone to lagging levels (up to 87% of vegans may be deficient). And with these dietary preferences on the rise – 8 million people now identify as vegetarian and vegan, and Google Trends show a 90% increase in searches for “vegan” in the past year.
Women with Gut Troubles: A similar story is unfolding for women with gut troubles. That’s because chronic gut inflammation limits the body’s ability to absorb the nutrient. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS affects up to 45 million adults, two-thirds of them female), celiac disease, and Crohn’s are notorious for inflaming the gut.
Heartburn: Heartburn sufferers often lack B12 too, since acid-reducing meds can limit the stomach acid needed to release B12 from food. If you fall into any of these groups, visit your health care practitioner, who can test your blood and discuss ways to bring up your B12 levels.
Know The Signs, And When To Seek Help
These symptoms can get scary fast – going from mild to severe in as little as six months if untreated. If you notice any, see your doctor right away.
1. Your tongue is smooth and shiny.
About half of people with a B12 deficiency lose papillae – tiny, taste bud-containing bumps. As a result, your tongue may feel sore, and your sense of taste ay wait, making even spicy fare seem bland.
2. You Feel Prickles.
A lack of B12 can deteriorate nerve cells, leading to a pins-and-needles sensation in your hands and feet. Ignore it, and the tingly feeling can become permanent.
3. Your Balance Is Shot.
Without the protection of B12, the nerves in the spinal cord (which branch out to control your legs) can wither, leaving you dizzy and wobbly. Stumbling regularly isn’t normal unless you’re teetering in sky-high heels, so report ongoing instances of feeling off-kilter as soon as you notice them.
4. You’re Having Trouble Remembering Things
Nerve damage in your brain can leave you foggy, confused, and forgetful. If you frequently blank on the name of your favorite restaurant or misplace your keys more often than usual, take it seriously and get tested. The mental misfires can progress quickly and become irreversible; some people develop symptoms so severe, they mimic dementia in a year’s time.
5. You’re Stressed or Crying All The Time
A lack of B12 can mess with your mental health and eventually can lead to depression or anxiety. One theory why: Low B12 may affect the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, the same brain chemicals impacted in depression that’s not related to B12. If you feel low and there’s no obvious stressors tanking your mood, talk to your health care provider.
Boost Your B
Raise those levels with science-backed (and real-women tested) tactics. Pick your preference; all work equally well.
Dine On B12-Rich Foods
Meat eaters and vegetarians alike can score the daily recommended 2.4 micrograms of B12 via food. Some of the best sources:
1 egg: 0.45 mcg
1 oz mozzarella: 0.65 mcg
3 oz beef tenderloin: 3.48 mcg
1 cup nonfat yogurt: 1.23 mcg
3 oz salmon: 2.38 mcg
3 oz tuna: 9.25 mcg
3 oz oysters: 5.75 mcg
1 cup Kashi Heart to Heart honey toasted oat cereal: 5.94 mcg
1 cup Kellogg’s All-Bran complete wheat flakes: 6.62 mcg
1 cup soy milk: 3 mcg
1 Tbsp bragg premium nutritional yeast seasoning: 2.4 mcg
Swallow A Supplement
Pop a daily 1,000-microgram supplement (unless your doc suggests a different dose). Research shows pills, gummies, and under-the-tongue dissolvable tabs are equally effective. Look for a USP or NSF seal on the packaging; this indicates an independent organization has verified the product contains the ingredient, in the stated amount, listed on the label.
Get An Injection
Needles bypass the gut to deliver the nutrient straight to the muscle, so you may feel the effects as soon as the “juice” goes in or up to a few days after. Most women need the shots monthly to keep energy levels from declining. If you’ve been diagnosed as deficient, you can get the shots at your doctor’s office or drugstore wellness clinics, and insurance will likely pay. If you haven’t been diagnosed, don’t buy into the fad. While taking in more B12 won’t hurt you (you’ll just pee out what you don’t need), doctors suspect the energy lift some nondeficient people report feeling post-shot is a placebo effect.
Get Your B12 On!
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods