Vitamin B12: Cure-all or waste of money?

Vitamin b12

By pH health care professionals

Are B12 injections worth the hype?

“B12 injections given here!” Doctor’s offices, chiropractic centers and other wellness-focused operations love to advertise B12. And why not? It’s profitable, and patients swear it gives them an “energy boost.”  But while a “quick fix” for irritability or fatigue might be tempting, the notion of B12 as a cure-all, and a fast one at that, has a shaky foundation.

The reason we don’t advocate B12 for all is that most people younger than 50 have perfectly fine levels of B12 already. Animal sources like meat and eggs are the primary sources of B12 in the U.S.  A simple blood test can tell you your level — numbers between 500 and 1,000 pg/ml are desirable.

However, vegans, vegetarians, women, alcoholics, people with bowel diseases like colitis or Crohn’s, and people who have had gut surgery (like gastric bypass surgery) are the most likely to be deficient. Additionally, absorption of food-bound vitamin B12 decreases as we age. It is generally recommended that adults 51 years and older take a supplement containing vitamin B12.

What is vitamin B12?

B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it dissolves in water. In general, after the body uses water-soluble vitamins, leftover amounts leave the body through the urine. B12 is different in that it can be stored for years in the liver. It is actually the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the body.

What are the risks of B12 deficiency?

The risks of B12 deficiency include anemia, numbness, impaired senses and nerve damage.

If you do have a deficiency, evidence shows that a simple oral tablet is just as effective in restoring levels as injected B12. A 2011 study in the journal Clinical Therapeutics showed that people were able to attain 100% of desired B12 levels simply by taking a daily oral supplement.

What about taking supplements even when you don’t have a deficiency?

It seems to depend on what you want to take it for. In 1978, researchers in the British Journal of Nutrition measured exercise performance before and after B12 injections (or placebo injections) and found no difference in performance.  

But another study looked at young people with hearing loss due to too much noise exposure. This study found some benefit in hearing in the participants who took extra B12. This makes some sense, since B12 is critical to nerve health. The B12 you don’t need will be excreted in the urine, unless you have liver disease.

There is a small subset of people who truly cannot absorb vitamin B12 well from food or from oral supplements. There is a test called CobaSorb that will tell you if you are one of them. Potassium supplements can reduce absorption of vitamin B12.  There is also some evidence that vitamin C in supplements can interfere with obtaining the vitamin B12 found in foods. But note that if you’ve had weight loss surgery, your doctor should guide you in deciding what supplements should be taken.  

Although taking vitamin B12 has almost no side effects, your dollars should be spent on supplements you actually need. If you have low B12, opt for a less expensive pill form.

Who may be at risk for B12 deficiency?

Do you have pernicious anemia? Are you on long-term antibiotics? Do you have gastritis? Are you a smoker or a vegetarian or vegan? Do you drink a lot of alcohol? If you answered yes to any of these, you may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency and should consider a supplement.

How much B12 can I take?

If your kidneys and liver are healthy, you can probably take 1,000 micrograms daily without adverse effects (which may include itching, numbness and tingling, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea and swelling). Some doctors say there are absolutely no side effects to massive B12 doses. However, the recommended daily intake of B12 is less than 3 micrograms. Taking over 3,000 micrograms, which is significantly higher than the recommended daily intake, is known to cause adverse effects.

At pH Labs, we help you find out what your body really needs through a personalized health assessment and advanced lab testing. This way, you’re not left to trial and error to find out what supplements to take or lifestyle adjustments to make. Our doctors will work with you to address any deficiencies in your body, including vitamin B12. Visit our website or call us at 855-PHLABS1 to schedule an appointment.

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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