Facts and Myths about Vitamin B12

Read about Facts and Myths related to Vitamin B12


The Energy Vitamin

FACT! Vitamin B12 is a powerhouse. It helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells, and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system. Your metabolism wouldn't run smoothly without it.

Vegetarians and vegans are at risk

FACT! Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products. So if your diet largely consists of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, beans, and soy, you're at risk for deficiency. "Vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy should aim to include at least one source a day from both of these food groups," Vegans—who by definition consume no animal products—need to take a supplement or consume vitamin B12–fortified foods, such as breakfast cereal and grains. Other foods fortified with B12 include nondairy milks and meat substitutes, but not all are, so check the label first to make sure.

Vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant sources

MYTH! The only reliable and absorbable sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, especially organ meats and eggs. Though present in lesser amounts than meat and eggs, diary products do contain B12. 

Adults over 50 are also at risk

FACT! As you age, the stomach produces less acid, and stomach acid is key for B12 absorption. About one in 31 adults over 50 are deficient, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older individuals also often have poorer appetites and food intakes, and they may be on medications (such as heartburn meds) that can further reduce stomach acid levels. In fact, some seniors actually lose the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food at all, and must get it via supplements or, if the deficiency is severe, injections.

Early symptoms include weakness and fatigue

FACT! Inadequate B12 intake makes a dent in red blood cell production, and some of the earliest signs of a deficiency include feeling dragged, confused, and weak. Problem is, these clues are so vague, and not everyone experiences them the same way. And since they can be attributed to so many other possible triggers, most people don't think to be tested.

It can be mistaken for dementia

FACT! Symptoms of a deficiency often mimic those of dementia, such as memory loss, disorientation, and difficulty thinking and reasoning," says Middleberg. It can be hard distinguishing deficiency from dementia, especially since older folks are at risk for both.

Fortified foods and supplements can help

FACT! Both can help vegans, vegetarians, and older adults and others who are unable to absorb naturally occurring B12. When absorption is an issue, "simply loading up on foods naturally high in B12 may not solve the problem. Best places to find it in food: fortified cereals, many of which have 100% of your RDA.

Heavy drinking increases your odds

FACT! Alcohol plays a role in deficiency in another way too. B12 is stored in the liver, and alcohol consumption can impair liver function and deplete B12 stores or make it harder for the liver to use it.

It can be hard to recognize a deficiency

FACT! Because the body can store B12 for three to five years, early symptoms of a deficiency usually appear gradually, so you're unlikely to notice them.

It's linked to immune system issues

FACT! B12 plays an important role in white blood cell production, and white blood cells are essential for proper immune system functioning. Not only can a lack of B12 lower your immunity, some immune system disorders can increase your likelihood of becoming deficient.

Digestive problems can cause it

FACT! digestive problems can make absorbing the nutrient more difficult. If you have any of these, talk to your doctor about supplements or B12 shots, since all the B12-rich food in the world won't help your body shore up its reserves if it can't be absorbed by the GI tract.