It’s true that most of us have some type of vitamin or nutrient deficiency. If you don’t get enough sunlight because you work inside an office all day, you may be low on vitamin D and magnesium. Lactose intolerant? You could be low on calcium. Not getting enough quality protein? Iron deficiency. That is why vitamin supplements and products are so popular. Got a digestive disorder? Maybe your B12 levels are low. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, B12 shots are an option. We’ll provide the context surrounding why one might be B12 deficient, how B12 shots work, and where else you can naturally find vitamin B12 in your diet.
Who Needs Vitamin B12 Shots?
Proponents of B12 shots say that injections of this water-soluble vitamin (also called cobalamin because it contains the mineral cobalt) can help boost energy levels, cognitive function, and weight loss. This is because vitamin B12 is an active component in brain functioning, in DNA synthesis, and in the production of red blood cells (needed for oxygen transport from our lungs to all our vital organs).
Vitamin B12 can be stored long-term in the liver, which means it takes a long while for deficiencies to develop, so where do they come from?
Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in food sourced from animals, which means vegetarians and vegans can become deficient more easily than most. The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 is a mere 6 micrograms a day, and yet studies show that 90% of people eating meat-free diets are not getting enough B12. Read this article to find out how to get vitamin B12 from food that is vegetarian approved.
B12 deficiency shouldn’t affect lacto-ovo vegetarians or carnivores, then, right? Well, no, not necessarily.
Many people who do consume animal products don’t absorb vitamin B12 sufficiently enough. Vitamin B12 needs the aid of what’s known as intrinsic factor, a protein in your stomach that binds to B12 so it can escort it into your bloodstream. Without enough intrinsic factor, you can consume animal food sources and still be deficient.
Other factors contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency, including advanced age, intestinal procedures like weight-loss surgery, and gut diseases that affect nutrient absorption like celiac or Crohn’s disease. In these cases, your doctor might suggest B12 shots as an option.
Do B12 Injections Work? What Are the Benefits?
Without enough vitamin B12, people may develop pernicious anemia and neurological issues associated with a low red blood cell count. For treating a diagnosed B12 deficiency, vitamin B12 shots not only work but are also extremely effective at preventing or treating this deficiency.
Prescribed by a health care professional, the injection (in the form of cyanocobalamin or hydroxocobalamin) is administered directly into the muscle, which raises the levels of B12 in the blood. As for the benefits, here are some of the scientifically backed vitamin B12 boons.
1. Cognitive Function
Low vitamin B12 levels are scientifically associated with certain declines in brain and cognitive function, specifically cases of dementia development. While evidence is less conclusive about whether B12 shots improve cognitive function in those who aren’t experiencing any issues, preventing brain damage is important for those who are severely deficient in B12, and even more so in older populations.
2. Depression Management
Low levels of vitamin B12 are sometimes associated with increased rates of depression. Long-term supplementation with B12 could help prevent a relapse of depression and reduce the severity of dangerous depressive symptoms.
There is limited data in this area, however, so more research is still needed to reach a scientific consensus on the link between vitamin B12 and depression.
3. Preventing Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration leads gradually to loss of vision, often in both of the eyes. Scientists assert that keeping up levels of vitamin B12 in the blood can ensure the maintenance of strong vision as we age, particularly after age 50. For example, in one massive study of over 5,000 women, those participants who received daily supplements of B vitamins (including 1,000 micrograms of B12) along with folic acid over 7 years had a 35% lower risk of age-related macular degeneration.
While there were other supplements at play in this study which require more research to parse out, it’s nevertheless an indication that regular use of dietary supplements full of important vitamins and nutrients can make a real difference as we grow older.
4. Osteoporosis Prevention
Osteoporosis is characterized by the loss of bone density and bone mass. This condition weakens the bones and increases the risk of bone fracture and long-lasting injuries, especially in the elderly.
Natural Sources of Vitamin B12
Anecdotal reports from those who take B12 shots say they increase energy levels, weight loss, and overall mood, though there isn’t any hard clinical data in those areas due (in some part) to a lack of research funding for many natural remedies. What is important to know is that there are no major B12 side effects short of rare allergic reactions, and that even concentrated injections are generally considered safe and without risk of B12 overdose.
However, if you’re worried at all about having a sensitivity to a B12 shot, you can always choose to consume a diet that will give you abundant natural sources of B12, or ask your doctor for further medical advice on how best to increase your levels.
While natural sources of vitamin B12 come from animal foods, there are foods fortified with B12, so you don’t necessarily have to change your vegetarian or vegan diet to increase your B12 consumption. That being said, these are the foods that contain significant amounts of vitamin B12.
- Ground beef
- Beef kidney
- Canned salmon
- Cow’s milk and other dairy products
- Fortified nut milks and cereals
- Nutritional yeast
Short of a B12 injection shot, you can also choose oral supplements of methylcobalamin B12 or B complex vitamins. Consuming B12 orally (or taking sublingual B12 in liquid form under the tongue) makes it much less likely that you’ll ever be at risk of receiving too much B12 at any one time.
B12 to Be Healthy?
Since B12 shots are administered by a health care professional, the question of whether you need B12 injections should be discussed with your doctor. If your blood tests show you’re deficient in this vitamin, it may be the best call for you, especially if the deficiency is due to a malabsorption disorder, since taking oral vitamin B12 supplements may not do the trick in that case.
However, because so little B12 is needed daily, and it can be stored long-term in the liver, most people are able to get the amounts needed from their diet or from over-the-counter multivitamin supplementation. While B12 shots are effective, they’re also considered the last resort by most doctors, so consult with your health care provider for specific medical advice before making your decision.