Vitamin B12, one of eight B vitamins, plays a key role in anti-aging. It helps produce red blood cells that transport fresh oxygen through your body, and creates the myelin sheaths that surround and protect your nerves. When your body is running on optimal levels of vitamin B12, you feel more energetic and optimistic, with…

  • Easeful digestion
  • Sharper brain function and memory
  • Normal cholesterol levels
  • Controlled blood pressure
  • Healthy skin and nails

…and are probably enjoying deeper, more restful sleep. You’re also better protected against heart disease and cancer risk.

Here’s the rub: According to a Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study, 40% of Americans between 26 and 83 don’t get the recommended 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day, and are borderline deficient in this essential nutrient. And 25% of people over 26 have already reached full-scale vitamin B12 deficiency, while 50% of people over 50 are deficient.

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

The symptoms of B12 deficiency mimic those of chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, autism, and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. Due to symptom similarities, vitamin B12 deficiency is often misdiagnosed. Let’s run through some of the common symptoms to see if they may be masking a B12 deficiency in your life.

  • Low energy and overall fatigue
  • Digestive troubles
  • Depression/anxiety/irritability/moodiness/insomnia
  • Cognitive issues such as brain fog and memory loss
  • Anemia
  • Compromised immune system
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Swollen tongue
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Jaundice

Testing for B12 Deficiency

You can easily test for vitamin B12 deficiency with a blood test, but there is room for less than definitive accuracy. Medications can interfere with the results by masking low B12 levels, as can certain medical conditions, such as liver disease and alcoholism.

Health experts also take issue with what is considered the “normal” range.  In the United States, a test result of 200-900 picograms/milliliter (pg/mL) is considered normal, with the caveat that older adults with B12 levels between 200 and 500 pg/mL may actually be deficient. For everyone, a value less than 200 pg/mL qualifies you as B12 deficient.

These normal ranges are far lower than what’s deemed safe by other countries. In Europe and Japan for instance, 500-550 pg/mL is considered too low and is associated with brain function decline, dementia, and memory loss.

What Contributes to B12 Deficiency?

Your body can’t make vitamin B12, so it must be consumed in the diet through animal foods and animal byproducts, which means strict vegetarians are especially vulnerable to B12 deficiency. Foods such as fermented soy, spirulina, brewer’s yeast, and seaweed, don’t contain B12 but an analog of B12 that actually limits absorption.

The primary causes of vitamin B12 deficiency stem from absorption issues caused by:

  • Diseases such as celiac and Crohn’s
  • A decline in intrinsic factor, a protein that helps the intestine absorb B12
  • Abnormal heat production, such as hyperthyroidism
  • A decline in hydrochloric acid as you age
  • Taking PPIs such as Prilosec or Prevacid, confirmed by a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing increased risk of B12 deficiency by as much as 65% when taken for two years

How to Boost B12 Levels

Increase your intake of the following B12-rich foods:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Grass-fed beef and beef liver
  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Raw cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Raw milk

And make sure your supplement is the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12, not the cyanocobalamin form. Methylcobalamin is easier for the body to absorb. Always consult your doctor before adding supplements to your health prescription.