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The vitamin B12 basics

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Vitamin B12 will up your energy

Not much is known about this B-family nutrient, but recent research suggests vitamin B12 helps the body metabolize fat, protein and carbs, and helps keep energy levels high. Keep reading to find out if you are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency and easy ways to get enough.

vitamin B12What is known about vitamin B12

While the origins of vitamin B12 are relatively unknown, certain things about the nutrient are clear. Vitamin B12 is not produced by plants and can only be found in tiny organisms, like bacteria, in meat, dairy products or fermented foods, such as yogurt. And while the body readily absorbs vitamin B12, factors like medication use can deplete the body's stores of it.

Research also suggests the nutrient may be useful in treating arthritis, anemia, asthma, celiac disease, leukemia, lupus, multiple sclerosis and muscular degeneration.

Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency

There are several signs you could be running low on vitamin B12.

Some symptoms include:

  • Dandruff and itchy skin
  • Depression
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervousness and anxiety attacks
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Weight gain
  • Menstrual problems

There is little to no risk of overdosing on vitamin B12. In even in the most extreme cases, toxicity symptoms are rare.

Are you at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency?

Certain conditions can affect how much vitamin B12 your body absorbs. Several groups are at a higher risk than others. You may be at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency if you are in one of the following groups.

People with stomach problems. Research suggests irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining may hinder the body's ability to produce a nutrient called intrinsic factor, which the body needs to absorb vitamin B12.

People who use antacids. Stomach acid is needed to breakdown and unbind vitamin B12 from the dense foods (like meat) in which the nutrient is found.

Vegetarians. There are no known plant sources of vitamin B12. As a result, vegetarians should talk to their doctor or a nutritionist about proper supplementation.

People on medication. Several drugs inhibit the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12, including antibiotics, cancer medications, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering medications and potassium supplements.

Recommended daily dose of vitamin B12

Not sure if you're getting enough vitamin B12? The recommended daily dose varies depending on age and stage of life.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is:

Infants (0 to 6 months): 0.4 micrograms (mcg) per day
Infants (7 to 11 months): 0.5 mcg per day
Children (ages 1 to 3): 0.9 mcg per day
Children (ages 4 to 8): 1.2 mcg per day
Children (ages 9 to 13): 1.8 mcg per day
Teenagers (ages 14 to 18): 2.4 mcg per day
Adults (19 and older): 2.4 mcg per day
Pregnant Women (19 and older): 2.6 mcg per day
Lactating Women (19 and older): 2.8 mcg per day

Food sources of vitamin B12

There are several ways to get enough vitamin B12 in your daily diet.

Some of the best vitamin B12 food sources include:

Snapper, baked/broiled, 4 ounces = 3.97 mcg
Venison, cooked, 4 ounces = 3.60 mcg
Salmon, baked/broiled, 4 ounces = 3.25 mcg
Shrimp, steamed/boiled, 4 ounces = 1.69 mcg
Yogurt, low-fat, 1 cup = 1.38 mcg
Eggs, whole, boiled, 1 egg = 0.49 mcg

How to get more vitamin B12 in your diet

1. Eat fermented foods. Research is still out on the effectivness of tofu, tempeh and tamari at upping a person's vitamin B12 levels. What scientists can agree on? If you're a vegetarian, you should include fermented foods in your diet every day.

2. Don't overcook your food. While vitamin B12 isn't particularly sensitive to heat, if you overcook a meat product, you could cut the food's vitamin content by 30 percent.

More ways to get more vitamin B12

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