If, like many Americans, you’ve tried everything to boost your energy, but still feel drained, you may want to start looking for answers elsewhere. Low levels of vitamin B12, a vitamin that lies at the core of our body’s ability to make DNA for new cells, form healthy red blood cells, and turn the food we eat into energy to power our metabolism, is often overlooked. Recent studies suggest anywhere from 15-40% of Americans don’t have adequate levels of B12 for optimal health.
America's B12 Deficiency
Why is a lack of B12 of such concern? In the short term, insufficient B12 levels can lead to deep fatigue, mood changes, and dementia-like qualities, preventing you from feeling your best and performing at your highest energy level. In the long term, an unchecked vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to permanent nerve damage, which is why it’s important to catch it early.
Symptoms of B12 Deficiency:
- Overall lack of energy
- Unusual mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Inflamed, red, cracked tongue
Who’s at Risk?
As American diets, medications and lifestyles have changed dramatically, the question is: what has been the impact on our B12? While you should talk with your doctor about your own personal history, here are some of the broad risk groups Dr. Oz, Dr. Katz and I discussed on the show:
If you’re taking certain medications. An essential step for vitamin B12 absorption occurs in the stomach, where your stomach acid plays a key role in unlocking B12 from your food to make it available to the body. If you’re taking medications that suppress gastric acid production, such as proton pump inhibitors for heartburn, you may be at higher risk for B12 deficiency. Regular consumption of aspirin is also associated with a higher risk of B12 deficiency (approximately 1 in 5 adults is taking aspirin every day or every other day), as is the diabetes drug Metformin.
If you’ve undergone gastrointestinal surgeries or have gastrointestinal disorders. Gastric bypass or other stomach surgery can compromise the body’s ability for normal, healthy absorption of B12. If you have IBS, Chrohn’s disease or celiac disease, you are also at a potential higher risk, as you may be unable to absorb enough vitamin B12 from your food, or to produce adequate intrinsic factor, a compound needed further along in digestion to absorb B12 in the small intestine.
If you’re over age 50. Changes in the stomach lining as we age can reduce the production of gastric acid for up to an estimated 30% of the population; in this case, you no longer can unlock adequate amounts of B12 from the foods you eat. For this reason, it’s recommended that all Americans over age 50 consume 25-100 mcg/day of supplemental B12. What’s the difference? In fortified foods and supplements, B12 is already in its free form and doesn’t require gastric acid for separation in the stomach.
Boost B12 in Your Diet
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in some foods (animal foods like seafood, poultry, beef, pork and dairy products are the most reliable sources), added to others (like fortified breakfast cereal) and available as a dietary supplement or prescription medication. Here are four of the most powerful ways you can start including more B12 in your diet.
Begin With a Breakfast of Champions
Fortified breakfast cereals are an affordable, super easy way to get the B12 you need. Check the label and choose your favorite whole grain cereal that provides 25-100% of the Daily Value (DV) of B12. Add 1 cup of organic lowfat or skim milk or yogurt for another 15-20% DV of B12, and you can meet your needs before you’ve cleared the breakfast table.
Cook Up a Buffalo Slider
The best natural sources of vitamin B12 are animal foods. One-hundred percent grass-fed buffalo (or bison) is a lean and green superfood, as it’s lower in calories, total fat and saturated fat than conventional beef, and higher in heart-healthy omega-3s. Look for “100% grass fed” on the label, as some buffalo at the supermarket is corn-fed (in which case, those health benefits disappear). If you can’t find buffalo or bison, 95% extra lean organic grass-fed beef is a good alternative.
Crack Open a Clam
Seafood provides some of the best B12 foods on the planet. Just 3 ounces of canned clams, for example, pack over 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, and is also an excellent source of selenium, iron, zinc and protein. You can also find frozen clams in the freezer section of many seafood counters. Don’t like clams? Substitute 4-5 ounces of sardines, salmon or trout for a nutrient-rich B12 boost.
Try a Nutritional Yeast
If you’ve eliminated red meat altogether, are a vegan or vegetarian, a nutritional yeast that is fortified with B12 (be sure to check the label) can also be an excellent source of this vitamin; simply sprinkle 1 tablespoon per day into your lasagnas, smoothies and even desserts for your daily dose of B12. While other plant foods may claim to be a source of B12, these are unreliable as the amount can vary; a fortified yeast (or breakfast cereal) is a better bet.
What About B12 Shots or Supplements?
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 health-care 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.
Article written by Kate Geagan, MS, RD