Wiped out? Depressed? Forgetting where you left your keys? You might want to get your B12 levels checked. This vitamin, found in animal products like meat and dairy as well as in fortified vegetarian foods such as soy milk, is responsible for making red blood cells and DNA and maintaining normal nervous system function. Typical symptoms of low B12 include anemia, depression, dementia, confusion, loss of appetite and balance problems. Long-term deficiency can cause severe anemia, nerve damage and irreversible neurological changes. Symptoms may be subtle and easily mistaken for other conditions.
Though only about 1 in 1,000 Americans are deficient in B12, the rate goes up with age and is more prevalent in those who don’t eat animal products and those who have absorption problems (which may or may not be related to certain medications such as acid-blocking drugs, metformin, or birth control pills).
Most adults only need about 2.4 micrograms a day, (the amount in three ounces of beef), and though it’s a water-soluble vitamin, B12 can be stored in fat tissue for several years, which is why some very lean people may be deficient—no storage space. However, it’s a relatively easy nutrient to replete stores of via supplements and diet.
I can speak from experience: B12 deficiency is no fun and can be scary when you don’t know what’s really going on. After several months of taking 1,000 microgram supplements daily, I’m finally in a normal range and feeling much better.
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