Vitamin B12: What it is, Signs of Deficiency, and Treatment

Vitamin B12

Do you get enough vitamin B12? If not, you should, because this is a powerhouse nutrient that your body needs in the right amount to stay healthy and help you feel your best.

What is Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 has many functions. It is essential for the production of red blood cells and DNA as well as the function of your central nervous system. It is also important for your energy and metabolism, a healthy brain, and a healthy immune system.

Your body does not make vitamin B12 on its own. It is found naturally in animal foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. In can also be found in some fortified products such as breads, cereals, and plant-based milks. For those who are deficient in vitamin B12, it can be taken in supplement form.

Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Most people get enough vitamin B12 in their diet, but you may be deficient if you do not eat a lot of foods that have this nutrient. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you may be more at risk for deficiency. You may also be more at risk if your body has a hard time absorbing vitamin B12. This is sometimes the case for older adults, people with digestive issues such as Chrohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and people who have had bariatric surgery.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can take years to develop, causing symptoms to occur gradually over time. In other cases, it can develop quickly. Because the symptoms are so varied and across the board, vitamin B12 deficiency is often mistaken for other deficiencies or health issues. In many cases, it goes undiagnosed.

Signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include:

  • Weakness, tiredness, or persistent fatigue
  • Pale or jaundiced skin
  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Nerve problems like numbness and tingling
  • Brain fog, confusion, and memory loss
  • Mouth ulcers and canker sores
  • Mood problems like depression and irritability
  • Vision problems
  • Digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation


If you suspect that you are deficient in vitamin B12, you should first see a healthcare provider. They will run a blood test to look at your levels and confirm a deficiency. If you turn out to be deficient, talk to your healthcare provider about potential treatment options such as diet modification, supplementation or vitamin B12 shots/injections.

  • Diet Modification: If you are not intentionally following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, you may want to incorporate more animal foods into your diet such as lean meats, Greek or low-fat yogurt, and low-fat dairy products. Animal products are the only naturally occurring source of vitamin B12.
  • Supplementation: If you don’t eat animal products, supplementation is another way to get more vitamin B12. There are oral supplements available at the supermarket and at pharmacies that can be taken daily to increase your levels.
  • Shots/Injections: If your body does not absorb vitamin B12 properly, regular shots/injections are needed to restore your body’s reserves of this nutrient. For the majority of people who need injections, these shots should be administered every one to three months to prevent symptoms from returning.


Most people get enough vitamin B12 from their diet, but deficiency may be common in people who eat mostly plant-based diets or have trouble absorbing vitamin B12. If you suspect that you are deficient, see a healthcare provider to talk about your symptoms and do a blood test to confirm. Treatment options may vary depending on your lab results and the type of diet you prefer to eat. To learn more about vitamin B12, click here for information from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

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