Down and Out Without B12

B12 deficiency more common than thought, according to doctor

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) About 1 in 1,000 Americans (and 15 percent of elderly people) are deficient in vitamin B12, an essential nutrient needed to produce red blood cells and DNA, which help keep the nervous system in check.

These rates increase among individuals who are vegan (those who don't eat meat or dairy products), those taking medicines to combat stomach acid and type 2 diabetics.

Washington, D.C.-based internist Alan Pocinki, MD, said vitamin B12-deficiency is more prevalent than text books and medical journals purport.

Symptoms of this deficiency include: fatigue, tingling and numbness in the feet, anemia, depression, cognitive difficulties, loss of appetite and balance issues, among others. Long-term deficiency can result in severe anemia (low red-blood cell count) and neurological damage. A normal range of B12 in the blood measures 200 to 800 pg per ml.

Despite Internet advertising and celebrity-endorsed pitches promoting B12's energy-boosting, miraculous benefits, the vitamin is simply processed out of the body if too much is ingested by people who do not have a deficiency of B12.

Adults need about 2.4 micrograms of B12 every day, the same amount found in about three ounces of beef. Stomach acid is needed to process the vitamin, however, which means those taking antacids should consider supplements.

B12 deficiencies increase as adults age and as stomach acid-production declines. To combat this effect, injections of B12 are sometimes given. B12 also comes in pill form and in nasal sprays.

Because plants can't store B12, the nutrient is found mainly in dairy, meat, poultry and fish products. Some cereals, which are easier to digest than beef, are also fortified with the vitamin.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 19, 2011
Last Updated:
January 20, 2011