If you’re battling brain fog and having trouble focusing at work, or just feeling exhausted, chances are you’re seeking a caffeine fix or sugary snack. But before you do, consider this: It may be time to turn to a lesser-known, healthier pick-me-up.
Vitamin B12 is an often overlooked vitamin that is essential to keep our brains sharp and our nervous system working on all cylinders. It is also key to healthy blood cell formation.
This month, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned doctors about the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in people taking metformin, a common treatment for type 2 diabetes, which affects how efficiently the vitamin is made by the body. Hospitalized. A drug safety update suggested that patients with risk factors for B12 deficiency should be monitored.
But what about the rest of us: Could low levels of vitamin B12 be to blame for our declining ability to concentrate?
“Meat, eggs, fish and dairy products are the main dietary sources of vitamin B12,” says Priya Tew, a registered dietitian and founder of Dietitian UK. “If you don’t eat meat or dairy and you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, then you definitely need to be aware of the risk of deficiency.”
Recent estimates from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggest that 11 percent of vegans are affected by a B12 deficiency. The elderly are also more at risk. Overall, a B12 deficiency affects about 6 percent of people under 60 and 20 percent of those over 60.
“As we get older, our appetite decreases, potentially reducing our consumption of foods containing vitamin B12. We’re also less able to absorb it,” says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of The Science of Nutrition. “Older women may also be at higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency because of their increased risk of developing the autoimmune disease pernicious anemia, which causes your immune system to attack the cells in your stomach that produce intrinsic factor — a protein that helps you intestines to absorb vitamin B12.
“Other groups at risk include those who have had abdominal or bowel surgery and anyone who is taking antacids for heartburn for a long time.”
However, if you eat meat, eggs, and dairy, you’re probably still getting your share of B12 and probably shouldn’t worry. “If your intake isn’t quite efficient, that’s probably less of a problem than if you’re vegan or vegetarian,” Tew says. “But it’s worth talking to your doctor if you’re concerned about the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet or your body’s ability to absorb it.”
Early symptoms of deficiency include tiredness, fatigue, and mood swings. But if a vitamin B12 deficiency is not controlled, it can become more serious. “Eventually, you can develop a form of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia, which is different from the type caused by iron deficiency,” Tew says. “A B12 deficiency can also affect fertility and increase the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies during pregnancy.” In extreme cases, vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, even if you’re vegan, or just prefer to eat less meat and dairy, there are still plenty of ways to boost your vitamin B12. “Breakfast cereals and plant-based milks, such as almond and soy, are often fortified with B12 and, love it or hate it, Marmite also contains a lot of vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast flakes fortified with vitamin B12 are another great way to increase your intake. Just sprinkle them over salads, pasta or rice.”
So how much do we need in our daily diet? The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 need about 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. (A microgram, mcg, is one-thousandth of a milligram, mg).
“Adhering to this recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 can improve your mood and energy,” says Tew, who suggests reading the information on your cereal box or plant milk package to check the amounts.